Record Machine: “Sad Song” by Lou Reed

Listen, I’m cheating this week. I don’t own Berlin or any other Lou Reed album on vinyl, only on CD. Because the man loved to be such a contrary bastard in the name of doing what he wanted, breaking my self-imposed rules seems fitting while paying tribute. Let us talk about the rock ‘n’ roll legend who died on Sunday, at the age of 71.

My first introduction to Lou Reed came at the age of fourteen and through the Trainspotting soundtrack. A science of teacher of mine had bought the CD and wasn’t crazy about it, but had noticed from the stickers on my notebooks and my incessant yammering about David Bowie, Rocky Horror, and all manner of other musical things, that I would be a better audience for the album than he was. From the first time I heard “Perfect Day,” it became one of my all-time favorite songs. How disappointed I was when I scratched the CD and it fell on that song!

Cut to 2001 — I sat in my dorm room and was talking to my dad via instant messenger. When he asked what I was up to, I said, “Downloading a bunch of Lou Reed songs.”

“Ugh, why?”

I probably said something like, “WHY NOT?” or “Because I like them?” Like, what information isn’t obvious here, Dad?

“He was just… never my thing.”

… Hence the lack of Lou Reed (or David Bowie, for that matter) in the inherited record collection.

Somehow my own record buying never got around to Lou Reed or Velvet Underground, and it was just two weeks ago when I considered buying a Velvet Underground record and put it back for Roxy Music instead. I know. I know. But that Roxy Music album, Avalon, has “More Than This,” and y’all know how I feel about that song.

Apart from borrowing a high school boyfriend’s VU Nico CD for a summer, and apart from my downloads, I didn’t properly own any of his music until February of this year when I bought both Coney Island Baby and Berlin on CD for $5 each.

Lou Reed - Berlin cover

On the train to Portland, Oregon, I listened to both while editing my novel. Through the night and through my headphones, Reed’s low and creaking voice created its own world around me while I worked. Though I love both, if I had to pick a favorite out of the two, it would be Berlin.

Berlin is big and beautiful, filled with choir-like backing vocals and additional instruments outside of the standard guitar-bass-drums fare. Horns, flutes, strings — It’s all outstanding.

Although both “Caroline Says” tracks and “Oh, Jim” are contenders, my favorite song from the album has to be the closer, “Sad Song.” I’m a sucker for a full symphony backing rock musicians, particularly on the subject of heartbreak:

I tried so very hard / shows just how wrong you can be…

When it came to understanding my bisexuality as a teenager, it was these art-rock men who helped me define it. They were unapologetic, brash, and otherworldly. Lou Reed owned who he was, and didn’t give a fuck if it made you uncomfortable. He moved in a way that spoke to him, that challenged himself and everyone who listened to him. We have so much for which to thank him.

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Sara Habein

Sara Habein is the author of Infinite Disposable, a collection of microfiction, and her work has appeared on The Rumpus, Pajiba and Word Riot, among others. Her book reviews and other commentary appear at Glorified Love Letters, and she is the co-manager of Electric City Creative.

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