“If I could make the world as pure
And strange as what I see
I’d put you in a mirror
I’d put in front of me.”
There are some records that, regardless of how many years pass since it was first release will always sound new every single time you play them. The records that do this are the ones that will tower above anything else you expose your ears to. They are the records that have a significant part in your life and are etched upon your heart like nothing else. They are the records that have led you down a road to self discovery and aided with your self-loathing ways. One of the records that I regard this highly is 45 years old. I think it was yesterday or today that 45 years ago that The Velvet Underground released their third record, and in my mind it is the best thing the band ever did.
The record opens with the heartbreaking and relatable Candy Says (about Candy Darling.) Candy Says is one of those songs that truly delves into self-disgust and being really uncomfortable in your own skin. Regardless of age, it is something anyone can relate to. What I’ve always loved about Lou Reed’s lyrics is the way he crafts his words in an old-fashioned, romantic poetic way. There will never ever be anyone else like him. As I listen to the songs on this record, I cannot help but miss him. I know I never knew him, and maybe this makes me stupidly weird, but not much has felt right since he died. I can’t explain what it is, but maybe someone else who loves Lou/Velvet Underground as much as I do will understand. Maybe they have the words to describe it, because I really don’t. Hand on heart, I firmly believe “What do you think I’d see, if I could walk away from me” to be one of the most beautiful lyrics of all time. It is fragile and hits you right in the sacred part of your heart. It’s the kind of lyric you’d want to have tattooed on you, as a reminder.
Whenever I mention The Velvet Underground I always end up talking about Pale Blue Eyes. There is just something about that song that rips your heart out. It can make you ache and can break you; but it is so beautiful. It’s a song that once did that to me, but I learnt very quickly to stop associating people with songs I love. I remember once speaking to someone I still hold quite dear to me about this song, and they got it. I’ve never met anyone else who understood how I felt about that song. You treasure those moments. Pale Blue Eyes has been covered quite a few times, but I think the only ones who have ever covered this song and really conveyed the meaning of it fully (and any song by The Velvet Underground) has to be The Kills, who are obviously influenced by them but not in a ripping off kind of way. Of course, you’ve got to mention how brilliantly messed up The Murder Mystery is. I never know what’s going on in that song, but when I listen to it through headphones it is like something is taking over. It’s mighty strange and fits perfectly on this record.
Sure their debut record was one of the best things to have ever happened to music, and let’s be honest no one is ever going to do for music what Lou Reed did; but their third record is one of the finer things in life. If this was their debut record, they probably would have caused more of a scene than they already did. This record is a just a body of dark poetry; words you wish you could write. Words you wish you had written.
The Velvet Underground’s third record is my favourite record because of how delicate it is lyrically. With their debut record, some of the sound is quite harsh but the one thing that has always been constant (and in his solo work) is that tone in Lou Reed’s voice. He has this way of singing about horrifically dark topics (if you listen to Heroin and you don’t feel the need to cry, then something is up with you) but at the same time really soothing your soul with his voice. His voice was one of a kind, and of course so was he. It’s really tough writing about him in past tense. It still doesn’t feel right.
I went through a phase some time ago of listening to Heroin followed by I’m Set Free. I just felt like those two songs had to played one after another. I have no idea what my mind was up to and why I decided to do it, but I did it. I guess it made me appreciate the songs more and in a different way. The way Lou’s lyrics really touch you are truly evident in those two songs. Play them one after each other, hopefully you’ll get what I mean.
The Velvet Underground made music that has influenced so many bands. Lou Reed’s solo work has obviously done the same. Anyone who loves both has probably tried to write something similar to them. I have, and I’m not ashamed to admit that. Of course nothing I’ve written has come close to it, not even a fraction. If anything, Lou Reed (and others) told me to write from the heart. It is easy to write all this down about his music and his words. I can take my time with it. But I probably would struggle to physically talk about the music because it just does something that is beyond expression.
In another 45 years I hope I am still listening to this record and feeling this way. Some bands, some records just stay with you throughout your life. They don’t go, they become something you really cannot do without. The Velvet Underground are a band I have taken walks by myself to, just to figure shit out. I’ll never figure anything out, and I’m okay with that. I’ll probably always feel a little uncomfortable in my skin, but I’m okay with that. The darker and things that are classed weird by others will always appeal to me, Lou Reed taught me that that’s okay. It’s really fucking okay to not be like everyone else. It’s okay to feel a little awkward in yourself and to want to shut off for a while. Lose yourself in a book, in a record. When it’s over, you’ll find whatever it is you were looking for.
Lou Reed taught me more than any teacher could. The things they don’t tell you about or prepare you for, he taught me it all. Music heals, music teaches. Just listen to this record. Play I’m Set Free so loud and with your eyes closed. If you want to cry, then cry. Just cry. It doesn’t matter. The record oozes freedom from others and from your mind. You won’t always be trapped.