Wednesday, April 15, 2009

New Sensations

I always read the New York Times' Paper Cuts blog especially the "Living with Music" feature. These lists of songs loved by writers, ones that got their memoir finished or novel wrapped up tend toward the obvious - lots of bare-my-heartbreak and literary isolationists that play upscale folk haunts. In other words, music you would suspect for whatever reason, that writers like. Aimee Mann shows up alot. But there is always something here, either unknown or forgotten that triggers something, and Amanda Stern lauding Lou Reed's New Sensations (listen) made me think of convincing my parents to let me video tape the big Amnesty International concert.

Our VCR was a behemothy: top-loader, a remote with a cord, and little dials where you had to tune in the channels you wanted to tape. It almost never worked. Once I was on a New Orleans channel for my high school's quiz bowl team (I pulled us ahead in the first round by remembering that the Missouri state bird was the bluebird dramatically before the buzzer hit) and my parents instead of watching it thought they woudl tape it and watch something else, since it was said one could do that. Somewhere in their house lies a tape of The Cosby Show labeled "Alex on Varsity Quiz Bowl" in my excited hand.

So it was an ordeal and an encumbrance, my commandeering the single family TV on that June weekend in 1986. I worked out how to tape MTV on one channel and let my dad watch something else, tested it a number of times, put the VCR setting on super slow so I could catch the whole thing. I was desperate to get U2, Sting (we were excited about Sting back then) and Peter Gabriel, and fretted most of the day about the results. That night I rewound the tape to discover that somehow I'd only managed to capture Joan Baez and Lou Reed. Maybe my dad got concerned about the advancing counter on the LED readout reaching the thousands and shut it off. Maybe the dog chewed on the cord for the remote.

I was still determined to reap my rewards. I tried to appreciate Joan Baez, the first of many attempts I've made over the years, but just couldn't do it. I knew Lou Reed had been in some big band, and he had that cool video where he tore his face off,

but he looked like Sha Na Na outcast in the leather and sunglasses singing in the Los Angeles sun. I figured he was just another one of those famous artists that I didn't care about.

And then in '91 he had a minor hit with "I Love You Suzanne" a knucklehead love song, and it had a video and it kinda worked. He had a double entendre song about video games that hit home. And on his Sneak Music previews show on late night New Orleans radio, Coyote J. Calhoun excitedly played the title track of New Sensations, and I had worked out how to tape things reliably then, and Lou Reed's percolating motorcycle travelogue on finding something worth living for in this life, even if it just the motorcycle, was trapped on cassette, like a bird in a net. I examined this thing to the atomic level, applied great Whitman-esque symbolism to teh burger and coke he consumed in the country diner. I needed more and started picking up Lou Reed tapes when I found them. And thus a Lou Reed fan, and incrementally, the music obsessive I am today, was born.

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