Some of the songs on Words & Music, May 1965 display a whimsy that we don’t associate much with the Reed/Cale Velvet Underground. I guess there had to be a sense of humor underlying something like “Sister Ray” or “The Gift,” but it is a stone-faced, sadistic sort of humor. “Walk Alone,” in contrast, has a playful feel from the beginning — Lou even dug his harmonica out of the closet for the occasion — and about a minute in, there’s a moment where he makes kissing noises and growls the word “coitus,” sounding very much like The Dude. (There’s also some meowing in there — I think that’s Cale?)
Though Lou claims sole credit at the beginning of the recording, several online sources indicate that “Walk Alone” was written in collaboration with the Pickwick team. I can’t find any evidence that it was ever recorded by a Pickwick artist, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it wasn’t; record-keeping was not the label’s strong suit. It was, somewhat incongruously, at least rehearsed by the Velvets:
It’s not impossible that the VU played it live in the early days, but if they did I bet it sounded out of place and was soon dropped from the repertoire.
In an alphabetical list of Lou Reed compositions, “Walk Alone” would be next to “Walk It and Talk It” (demoed by the VU during the Loaded era, later recorded — not especially well — for Lou’s first solo album) and “Walk on the Wild Side.” Which we’ll get to on the blog, at this rate, sometime in the 2030s. I trust, faithful readers, that all of you are eating right and exercising — or at least walking, whether alone or with others.
It seems those who tell you what to do
Have already done it, before they do
But it don’t even matter — uh, if’n it’s true
Because you know — damn well, you know
You’re gonna do the same thing, too
Here we get the moral of the story: Don’t trust anybody, not even yourself. It’s not what you’d call an uplifting message, but it’s an honest one. And very New York City. Remember what Lou wrote to Delmore Schwartz:
If you’re weak NY has many outlets. I can’t resist peering, probing, sometimes participating, other times going right to the edge before sidestepping.
The singer of this song keeps telling himself not to get involved, while all the time knowing that he’s going to, eventually. And then he’ll write a song about it, and the cycle will continue.read more…
Well, then it happened
Well, I am sad to relate
While he’s eating SpaghettiOs, this girl’s – uh, Chinese plate
He drooled and he slobbered over the design
As down in his mouth dribbled three-month-old port wine
Nineteen dollars a quart, gift from his mother – oh!
When this song was recorded in 1965, SpaghettiOs (yes that is the official trademarked name) were a brand-new product. Says Wikipedia:
Ring-shaped canned pasta was introduced in 1965 by the Campbell Soup Company under the Franco-American brand, by marketing manager Donald Goerke, nicknamed “the Daddy-O of SpaghettiOs,” as a pasta dish that could be eaten without mess. Other shapes considered included cowboys, Native Americans, astronauts, stars, and sports-themed shapes.
It was a true triumph of all-American marketing ingenuity: Posit a problem that’s not really a problem (spaghetti is so messy!), put something bland in a can, add high-fructose corn syrup and a catchy slogan, and hey presto — you’ve got a license to print money.
Three-month-old port seems like the perfect pairing for SpaghettiOs, though $19 a quart seems pretty steep, especially in 1965. (His mother overpaid, I guess.) Put it all together and we get a pretty vivid, if still a little vague, picture: Our Hero drooling and slobbering, dribbling port, shoveling SpaghettiOs into his gaping maw.
I guess if I were really committed, I’d have port and SpaghettiOs tonight. Instead, I think it will be Bordeaux and leftover pizza. Close enough?
Oh, you should have seen it!
Oh, my God, what a sight!
A fully grown man writing poems at night
To the silly old flower blooming in the night air
As alliteration blossomed, off in his chair
To which I came attached one dusky evening
When I sat in our park, some stuffing in Spring
And déjà vu! My friend turned in dismay
And then, thank God, I heard him once more say – oh!
I call this the bridge because I’m not sure what else to call it — it doesn’t quite fit with the rest of the verses, and seems to serve as some kind of connective tissue. It is spoken more than sung, and at first I thought it might be Cale’s voice rather than Reed’s; but judging by the mic placement it has to be Lou, just using some oddly posh accent that sounds like a cross between Basil Rathbone and Gore Vidal.1
So are we meant to take this as a human man literally writing poems to a flower he’s fallen in love with? Well, why not? The more I listen to this, the more I realize that it was just Lou and John goofing around — which makes the fact that I have spent months analyzing it both embarrassing and weirdly appropriate.2
I mean, what’s so bad about goofing around? Especially now that spring has finally sprung and the flowers are starting to pop up all over. I might write a poem to a flower my damn self, but I promise not to share it here.
This weekend my darling wife (Happy Birthday!) told me that if you hold a buttercup under someone’s a chin and see a yellow glow, it means they like butter. Which in practice means that everyone likes butter. I think everyone likes buttercups, too; what’s not to like? Here’s a picture of one, and that’s all for today.
But he is a liar, of course he got hung up
On an androgynous small buttercup
Of staminate and pistillate flowers, did he
Which happens, by the way, when you get involved emotionally, so –
There are a few words worth exploring here, the first of which is “androgynous.” It’s a pretty familiar word now, less so perhaps in 1965; but independent of the word, androgyny itself is as old as humanity, having been more or less fashionable and/or acceptable at different places in different times.
At the dawn of the 1960s America was, I’m led to believe, pretty uptight about such things. Long hair on a man, for instance, was frowned upon. As the decade wore on, this was among the many values that began to be called into question.read more…