Friday, March 13, 2009

FBO: 'Astral Week: Thankfully Ends Prisoner-Free'

On Lou Reed's fascinating Take No Prisoners double-live LP from 1978, 'Walk on the Wild Side' fills a side of the vinyl LP, lasting nearly 17 minutes, and never getting anywhere. He starts with a diatribe about why he's no longer bored with the song, and finally makes it to the opening verse ('Holly came from Miami, FLA') then immediately interrupts himself to riff on all sorts of things -- brontasauruses, 'I do Lou Reed better than anybody,' 'enough attitude to kill every person in New Jersey' -- then finishes the first chorus and breaks out to rant again -- why Springsteen is 'groovy,' liner notes in rock criticism, name-dropping New York Times opera critics, why critics shouldn't get free tickets -- then turns into the second verse about Candy -- pausing to explain each lyric ('this is true,' 'I really miss Candy', 'go write a Bible') -- and finally when the supreme back-up singers finally start the water-in-the-desert 'doo doo-doo' refrains, he quickly cuts them off, for a four-minute, pop-culture-psychedelic ramble on how the song got made, at the same time losing the small New York audience who had played along for eight minutes, laughing and yelling back, but eventually lose interest.

It's a mesmerizing self-destruction. On full view of the stage at the (now closed) Bottom Line -- and memorialized in vinyl. It finally ends after 17 minutes, with an open-chord fade: in the end, we don't actually know how long he kept it going that night.

It reminds me, in a way, of Van Morrison's Astral Weeks, which, we're told, is one of the great albums of all time. To me it seems like listening in on a loner sprawled on a dog-food-scattered floor and wailing about his agonies, pain, lost loves and plain ol' confusion. Songs stem from tinkly acoustic guitars, often building off two chords. Most build up indiscriminately -- with flutes and strings -- sometimes six or seven minutes, apparently depending on the whim of the plump Irishman with a Florentine nose. He repeats lyrics over and over -- and the lyrics ARE frequently excellent. The band, jazz sessions players I hear, don't really know what's next -- just following as they can in a rushed, three-day recording session.

Many bond with it. FBO Observer Tom Caw recommends we all read Lester Bang's take, which is compelling. But, unlike other 1968 albums ('White Album,' Beggars Banquet), it seems like a long-since sailed ship to me. And I can't get past the overly soulful bursts from Van every third or fourth line.

FBO Admin
Mobile/Semi-Permanent HQ -- Brooklyn, NY


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