1. Low – Hey What (Sub Pop)
2. Buffalo Daughter – We Are the Times (Buffalo Ranch/Anniversary)
3. Marisa Anderson & William Tyler – Lost Futures (Thrill Jockey)
4. Turnstile – GLOW ON (Roadrunner)
5. Brian Rahija – Timber (Ramseur/Thirty Tigers)
6. Dot Allison – Heart-Shaped Scars (SA Recordings)
7. Native Soul – Teenage Dreams (Awesome Tapes From Africa)
8. Moor Mother – Black Encyclopedia of the Air (Anti-)
9. Durand Jones & The Indications – Private Space (Dead Oceans)
10. Little Simz – Sometimes I Might Be Introvert (Age 101)
11. Jesse Marchant – Antelope Running (AntiFragile)
12. Negativland – NO BRAIN (Seeland)
13. V/A – Anthology of Exploratory Music from India (Unexplained Sounds)
14. Norman W. Long – BLACK BROWN GRAY GREEN (Hausu Mountain)
15. Botany – Portal Orphanage (Western Vinyl)
16. Dry Cleaning – New Long Leg (4AD)
17. ToiToiToi – Vaganten (Ghost Box)
18. black midi – Cavalcade (Rough Trade)
19. Japanese Breakfast – Jubilee (Dead Oceans)
20. Shannon & the Clams – Year of the Spider (Easy Eye Sound/Concord)
21. Connor Kissel – The Forest Of Things Lost And Found (Somewherecold)
22. Mark Tester – Oblivion Rhythms Revisited (Moon Glyph)
23. Brett Ratliff – Whitesburg, KY (June Appal)
24. TRAKA – Maktub (YUKU)
25. Charles Brown – Circles (Numero)
26. The Muslims – Fuck These Fuckin Fascists (Epitaph)
27. Sermon of Flames – I Have Seen the Light, and It Was Repulsive (I, Voidhanger)
28. Nueen – Circular Sequence (Quiet Time)
29. Space Afrika – Honest Labour (Dias)
30. Cando – Clutch EP (Le Chatroom)
This summer, our Freeform Portland DJs took time to reflect on what the radio station has meant to them. Here’s what they said (and drew)…
Every day we find ourselves just inundated with noise, and FreeForm Portland has become my haven from the static. The DJs here put so much time and thought into the music they bring to our community, and their love for the station can be felt on every show. We are so lucky to have this station to tune into rather than yet another thing to tune out.
Random Citizen (she/her)
This image was created not long after putting together songs I wanted to play on a future show. It also shows the accessibility of hearing Freeform Portland from your laptop. While technology changes, there’s still something awesome about coming across a song you didn’t know you needed to hear. It’s one of the reasons I love being part of the Freeform Portland fam. There’s no must-play list from a corporate headquarters — the songs you hear on different shows are selected by that DJ. Every time you tune in to Freeform Portland, you increase the chance of hearing your new favorite song.
I love listening to Freeform because there is always something on that’s new and funky! Discovering new music and not the same old 50 songs from 2007. Thanks for helping me discover and grow my love of music! Keep bringing the jams!
Some music inspires active listening. It may make you want to burst grin giggle bliss skip jump and sing and shout. It could be provocative, unsettling, unnerving, or challenging. It might make you think and feel. It isn’t always easy. Other music is more passive. You’ll put it on in the background as a pleasant hum during your busy day. It doesn’t distract. It lets you focus. Comforting. Present. Some music is immersive. You want to sink into it like a warm bath, a cozy bed, a luxurious rug. Freeform surprises with the unexpected. You’ll hear things you didn’t know you wanted to hear, that you didn’t know existed. You’ll discover new songs, new artists, new genres. You’ll hear strange and familiar voices, like your own, a new friend, or a long-lost love. Freeform isn’t formulaic. We’re for you. We’re here for your many moods, interests, passions, and curiosities. Kick off your shoes. Stretch out on the rug. Put on those headphones and tune in. We got you.
Freeform is a warm, welcoming brain-bath I always turn to when I want to swim in ideas. In my car or the hammock, when the mix gets especially good, the air thickens, the light turns to wine, and my secret gills unfurl to breathe in the weird, wondrous sounds. Since I found Freeform Portland, I can’t imagine going back to water…
When I was very young, Radio was music. Completely. All music came from the radio. To my post-infant brain, the radio was magic. All the sounds and the noises and the voices combined to create this incredible feeling of joy and happiness. Without knowing why I would crack a smile and involuntarily tap my foot. I made no distinctions between what I heard, all the songs just came from the radio and I absorbed them all. But growing older, we develop opinions, likes and dislikes, we learn to separate one thing from other things, we put things into genres, types, label things as “happy”, “sad”, “good’’, “Bad”, etc onto a near-endless number of possible of categories and boxes into which we can organize our overtaxed little brains. We lose some of our best infantile qualities, and we lie to ourselves calling it “growing up”, pretending it is okay. I listen to Freeform Portland because it has returned to me the magic of radio. Switching it on at any time of day or night, you can never know exactly what sort of music you are going to hear, and what exactly the DJ might play next. But it seems to always be good, well-selected and driven by a human element, the DJ. Even though there are a limited number of notes and chords, music seems to offer up an infinite number of possible combinations of sounds, and Freeform Portland seems to make a concerted effort to play as many of them as possible. When I listen to Freeform Portland I can let my guard down, and listen with a child’s mind frame. I can envelop myself in the security blanket of sound that is the magic of radio.
Music is an escape for when we are trapped in our houses, our cars, our jobs, our bodies. Music is an energy, passed between us in song and dance, and fuels our lives. Music was one of the earliest things invented by humans, and it is the most fluid form of communication there is. When music is shared with honesty it can change and save lives. Help support the love of music by supporting Freeform Portland. We have no advertisements, no talk radio, just blissful music, 24/7/365. Enrich your life and maybe help share the love with others.
for me, listening to music is a combination of escaping reality and a re-imagining of my lived experience. freeform is a place where i can sonically express all of the things i’ve always wanted to be without fear. this little ipod is a remembered past – the things that i loved to blast into my ears, the intimacy between my heart and a bumping track, and the beginning of a freeform dj’s story.
Each and every show on Freeform Portland has at least one new discovery. There are mysterious seashells to find in the endless span of sand, there are new birds that no ornithologist has ever seen, there are moments and memories that come rushing back like a brand new past. The sounds seem familiar, but what is happening is that we’re discovering it together for the 1st time. Freeform Portland invites vulnerable egoless ears to really listen, to be curious, to fall in love, and to be heartbroken in the healthiest way.
DJ Alice Wonder
Music can come into your life from unlikely places. I’ve found my favorite bands from my older sister, best friends, total enemies, math teachers, convenience store cashiers and of course community radio! Freeform has great tracks day and night, things I’ve never heard anywhere else, even after my many years of obsessively searching out the most obscure music. You never know where you’re going to find the next song you’ll fall in love with- sometimes squirrels have the best tunes!!
With a surprising lack of hoopla or fanfare, the new E.P. “Cure for Love” by Des Demonas was put up for presale on the In The Red Records website, followed by a few discreet mentions on social media sites.
This is a record for which I have been long waiting, not just because their debut album is an instant classic, its urgent performance demands repeated listening, but because the release of this new E.P. has been delayed by the global pandemic.
With seven songs the new E.P. might be mistaken for being a full length LP, but the songs all clock in at less than 3 minutes each, making the total running time squarely & accurately designated as an E.P.
The sound of the band might by some be described as “Garage Punk”. Instrumentally the band consists of Guitar, Organ, bass, drums, with vocals sloganistically shouted or spoken. One might cite influences such as Question mark & The Mysterions, The Monks, Lyres, The Stooges, The Fall, The Scientists and Jonathan Fire eater. And while that might work as a casual referral from one person to another, to peak the other person’s interest, I think it falls short of what makes the band unique.
To my ears what separates Des Demonas from other garage rock or garage punk bands is their rhythmic approach to their music. All the instruments feel lockstepped to the rhythm of each song. The band feels like five drummers who happen to be playing organ, guitar, bass and singing.
There is a scene in the James Brown biopic starring Chadwick Boseman, when his character halts a practice session when one of the musicians does not understand the rhythm that James Brown is attempting to achieve, and he goes around the room, pointing to each instrument, asking the name of the instrument, and every time, James Brown corrects the musician and states that the instrument to which he is pointing is a drum, no matter what the instrument might in fact be.
I think that same mentality might be at work in the band, Des Demonas. They charge through their songs on this E.P. with names like “Immigaration Song”, “Control”, “Forest Fire” “Black Orpheus Blues” & “Ballad Of Ike & Tina” with a pounding fury and extremely pleasing punctuated vocals.
I’m not a musician myself, and I can not emphatically state that the band hits on the “one”, but they do seem to hit that pocket that makes you want to listen to this E.P. “Cure For Love” over and over, and seek out other music by Des Demonas. They are that good. Rock n’ roll, noise with a beat.
Noah Fence is the host of “It’s a nice world to visit” which broadcasts every Friday from noon to 2 PM on Freeform Portland.
From the Music Library at Freeform Portland.
As a part of a new blog series, we’re letting the public in on our Weekly Top 30 charts.
These are the Top 30 from the week of 8/31.
2. Shannon & The Clams – Year of the Spider (Easy Eye Sound / Concord)
3. quickly, quickly – The Long and Short of It (Ghostly International)
4. Bobby Gillespie & Jehnny Beth – Utopian Ashes (Third Man)
5. Mdou Moctar – Afrique Victime (Matador)
6. Hiatus Kaiyote – Mood Valiant (Brainfeeder/Ninja)
7. Lingua Ignota – SINNER GET READY (Sargent House)
8. Mega Bog – Life, And Another (Paradise of Bachelors)
9. Tropical Fuck Storm – Deep States (Joyful Noise)
10. Piroshka – Love Drips And Gathers (Bella Union)
11. Arushi Jain – Under The Lilac Sky (Leaving)
12. Warp Trio – Warp Trio’s Pandemic Disco Fantasy (People Places Records)
13. Cameron Knowler – Places of Consequence (American Dreams)
14. ToiToiToi – Vaganten (Ghost Box)
15. Wolves In the Throne Room – Primordial Arcana (Relapse)
16. A Place To Bury Strangers – Hologram (Dedstrange)
17. K.D.A.P. – Influences (Arts & Crafts)
18. Gang Of Youths – Total Serene (Warner)
19. The Catenary Wires – Birling Gap (Shelflife)
20. Noveller – Aphantasia (s/r)
21. LoneLady – Former Things (Warp)
22. The Poets of Rhythm – Discern / Define (Daptone)
23. Gaspard Augé – Escapades (Genesis / Ed Banger / Because)
24. Sonny and the Sunsets – New Day With New Possibilities (Rocks In Your Head Records)
25. Brian Jackson, Ali Shaheed Muhammad and Adrian Younge – Brian Jackson JID008 (Jazz Is Dead)
26. Blod – Missväxt (Grapefruit)
27. Death Valley Girls – Street Venom (Suicide Squeeze)
28. Little Dragon – New Me, Same Us Remix EP (Ninja Tune)
29. Dolphin Midwives – Body of Water (Beacon Sound)
30. Fogbow – Roam (Gezellig Records)
February 12, 2021 marks a new Asian Lunar calendar year for the Year of the Ox. The corresponding element for 2021 is Metal and many fortune tellers predict this year will be lucky for financial opportunities and relationships.
The Ox represents a year of hard work and overcoming challenges where financial prosperity will be rewarded to individuals who have the capacity, resources and health to face their challenges. Yin energy is relative to Oxen where 2021 will be an antagonistic year, beginning with the full weight of the coronavirus pandemic and ongoing economic crises that is causing pestilence and strife for us all.
To lessen the burden or Tai Sui in the Year of the Metal Ox, believers in the Chinese zodiac can wear yellow and green plus metal accessories, which, according to Feng Shui theory, attract prosperity and luck.
No further catastrophic events are predicted for 2021, and there is a favorable forecast for economic recovery and attaining a global health equilibrium, if discipline and work focusing on problems are tackled in an organized effort.
“In the middle of chaos lies opportunity.” – Bruce Lee
Gung Hay Fat Choy (Happy New Year) from Weekend Family Music Hour! We wish you all safety, health, luck and love in The Year of the Metal Ox. Please enjoy 5 of our favorite Asian music artists to start off the New Asian Lunar Year.
“Fireworks” by Sanullim
Sanullim or Sanulrim was a Korean psychedelic, fuzz/folk, experimental and prog rock band formed in 1977 by brothers Kim Chang Wan (1954-), Kim Chang-hoon (1956-) and Kim Chang-ik (1958-2008). The brothers started Sanullim while they were attending university and they never envisioned they would attain the musical commercial success that they did.
Their first album Vol. 1 Already Now (1977) burst onto the Korean music scene, stewarding a new sound of psychedelic hard rock and folk fuzz produced by the brothers. Sanullim’s debut re-energized the Korean music scene which was publicly sullied at the time, following several rock musicians arrests for cannabis-related offenses in the 1970s.
Sanullim released over 10 albums between 1977-1984 and were also session players for other musicians. With the resurgence of the K-pop boom in the 1990s, all of their albums were reissued, along with a tribute album commemorating the band. They performed in Seoul on July 5th and 6th, 2007 for their 30th anniversary tribute and had plans to release their Vol. 14 album that year. But due to unfortunate circumstances, drummer Kim Chang-ik was killed in a traffic accident on Jan 29, 2008 while driving a forklift in heavy snow in Vancouver, Canada. Kim Chang-wan announced the disbandment of Sanullim after his brother’s death (wiki).
快樂的人 (Happy People) by Teresa Teng
Teng Li-Chun aka Teresa Teng (1953-1995) was a Taiwanese singer, musician and actor who was also known as the “Queen of Mandopop.” She began after dropping out of high school to pursue a career as a singer and was signed in 1968 at the age of fifteen. Teng’s vocal abilities to synthesize pop, jazz and traditional folk pushed her to the forefront as an entertainer in Mandarin language music, and within the next two decades, she rose to superstardom in the Chinese language world. With her ability to sing in other languages, she quickly became an entertainment icon throughout Asia.
Teng’s huge success grated on Chinese authorities, especially since her family fled the Communist regime after the Cultural Revolution. The Chinese government would often criticize Teng’s music for containing pornographic and degenerate messaging. Her songs were always a jab to the Party chairman, ‘Deng’ Xiaoping whose family name she shared. In China there was a popular saying: by day people had to listen to “old Deng” but at night people listened to “little Teng” because they wanted to. Teng passed away from asthma complications in Thailand but she continues to live on through her entertainment career (Hsu, 2015, The New Yorker).
高凌風 夏天的浪花 (Last Train to London) by Frankie Kao
Ko Yuan-Cheng (1950-2014) aka Frankie Kao and Kao Ling-feng was a Taiwanese singer, actor and television show host. He was given the moniker The Frog Prince by his friend and comedian, Ni Min-jan. Kao starred in 14 films and released 11 albums, plus participated in many live events, singing, dancing and showcasing his unique fashion and adaptability in music/entertainment styles.
Kao lived his life to the fullest, marrying three times in his life and prospering with 6 children. He continued to perform until his demise at the age of 63 from leukemia (wiki).
“Private Eyes” by Sam Hui
Samuel Hui Koon-kit born Sept 6, 1948, aka Sam Hui or The God of Song is a major superstar in the Cantopop world. Hui is a musician, actor and songwriter who popularized Western style songs with his colloquial Cantonese over vernacular traditional Chinese to advocate and contrast his positionality to support socially equitable change for working class people. Hui was born in Guangzhou, China and his family fled to Hong Kong in 1950 as refugees where he attended university. He began his singing career in 1967 and was signed to Diamond Records. Hui began his television career as a youth music television host on TVB and then hosted a show with his brother, Michael Hui on the Hui Brothers Show in 1971.
Hui later signed with Polydor and released his first single in English, “April Lady.” He performed English songs in the United States and the United Kingdom. He released his album, Game Gamblers Play as a soundtrack to the movie with the same name that was directed by his brother.
Hui’s popularity helped influence the Cantopop genre where his messages advocating for working class people resonated with many Hong Kongese, satirizing Hong Kong society and culture. His soundtrack to Private Eyes from 1976 cemented his stance as the God of Song. Hui’s life work includes 27 albums and 23 films. He continues to reside in Hong Kong and is a loving grandfather and father (wiki).
Many Chinese actors and singers have purported Hui to be an inspiration for them to pursue singing and acting. This includes the late great Leslie Cheung, the prolific queer entertainer who completed suicide by jumping from the 24th floor of the Mandarin Oriental Hotel in Hong Kong on Aprils Fools Day 2003. Cheung’s death sent shockwaves throughout Asia and helped bring awareness to the stigmas surrounding mental health struggles that LGBTQ Chinese people continue to face in a hetetronormative society.
“Band on The Run” by The Wynners
Fans of the Cantopop genre are aware of popular English cover songs sung in English, Cantonese or Hong Kongese. Hong Kong was under British rule from 1841 to 1997 in a peace deal to end the first Opium War. It became a prosperous democracy for the British Empire and a cultural melting pot where Western music was embraced by many.
The Wynners are a Hong Kong band that was formed in the 1970s with members, Alan Tam (lead vocals), Kenny Bee (lead vocals, rhythm guitar and keyboards), Bennett Pang (lead guitar), Danny Yip (bass) and Anthony Chan (drums). The Wynners were assembled by manager Pato Leung out of an earlier carnation of the band, The Loosers.
The Wynners became one of the most popular teen idol bands in Hong Kong because they covered many Western hits including, “Sha-La-La-La” by The Walkers, “Save Your Kisses for Me” by Brotherhood of Man and “Hey Jude” by The Beatles. The Wynners commercial success was supported with their own show on TVB, The Wynners Specials (1975) plus three feature films that are musical dramas Let’s Rock (1975), Gonna Get You (1976) and Making It (1978).
Never formally disbanded, Alan Tam and Kenny Bee went on to pursue solo careers and were popular in Hong Kong in the 1980s. The Wynners continue to reunite every five years to sold-out crowds, such as playing at benefitting events to support tsunami victims in Japan April 2011, Love Beyond Borders organized by Jackie Chan. Plus a benefit concert Nov, 2014 at the Oracle Arena where proceeds went to Family Bridges a non-profit organization in Oakland, CA that supports newly migrated Asian seniors and families to the United States (wiki).
Written by Karen Lee (Weekend Family Music Hour)
Weekend Family Music Hour has been with Freeform Portland since the station was established. As a family we have grown with the station & feel so privileged to have an affordable family activity that brings us together with your family’s lives, letting us share our musical household tastes. We love reciting Chinese horoscope predictions for Asian Lunar New Year, playing our Moog on Halloween, selecting songs based on politics or societal challenges and holidays! Check out our seasonal shows! Mostly ethnic; folk, rock, synth, disco, soul, hip hop, experimental and jazz/tongue jazz.
Hello Rachel, I would like to introduce you to our readers so let’s talk a little bit about you, shall we? Your main focus as a musician is singing. How and when did all this start? When did you know this is what you want to do?
My mother had a extensive record collection. When I was three, she grew tired of changing records for me and I was taught how to do it myself. I had the ability to hear a song once and be able to sing every word in tune. I’ve always been mesmerized by music, I could sing along to all styles. My first gig came when I was just four, busking on my street corner in inner SE Portland, collecting nickels by singing Barbara Streisand and Carole King.
I must sing, and I sing everywhere. It’s not really a choice. It’s only in the last few years that I’ve realized I could do it for a living. I’ve been a member of the bluegrass band The Rail Runners, and the folk/blues band The Wild Firs, where I sang backup vocals. I’m currently the vocalist with Nuclear Green, who have a pop/punk and eighties style. I make solo appearances as well.
Apparently your mom played a major role in building your interest in singing. Did your mom ever sing with you or to you? Did she encourage your interest in singing? Beside your mom, who else had a major influence towards further developing your skills?
My mom introduced me to music for sure. She had eclectic taste. My older sister was another major influence. She was 20 years older than me and always seemed so cool, so I liked what she liked. My mom did not encourage me to sing. Her interest in letting me listen to her records was primarily to keep me busy and to leave her alone.
I always found my own opportunities in music. I was in the choir and orchestra throughout school. I first played piano and trumpet, and later took up tuba, baritone, and trombone. I won a music scholarship to Mt. Hood Community College where I studied voice and orchestra. I’ve studied voice primarily over the last 15 years, and taught myself ukulele, guitar, and bass four years ago. I like working with different vocal teachers because they all have their own styles and specialties.
What is your favorite genre to sing to? What makes it so appealing from a vocalist viewpoint?
That’s a really tough question… My favorite is whatever I’m currently working on.
If you could share the stage with three singers who would they be and why?
Another difficult one! Only three? (laughs) Billie Holiday, Whitney Houston, Barbara Streisand, Michael Jackson, Prince, Chrissy Hynde. Just because they all were or are such great talents, extraordinary entertainers, and amazing humans.
Ha ha! This might be a simpler question, what are the biggest goals you’d like to achieve as a singer?
Technically speaking, I’m always trying to expand my vocal range, which is a challenge as I age. I want to perform more, both locally and nationally, with a hope to tour in Europe in the future.
Last question. How would you define singing in your own words? What does it mean to you?
For me singing is communication. It’s the way I express myself. All my triumphs and tribulations are expressed in my songs. In fact, it’s easier for me to sing than to hold a conversation.
Thank you Rachel for taking the time to do this interview with me, and thanks to all Freeform Portland visitors for reading this article. You can catch Rachel at a songwriter showcase at the Jade Lounge on March 9th.
With music one can jump back to a different time, a different space…
It folds time so that as you listen now to a steady beat, now to an aggressive guitar, you are easily transported to the first time you heard the song…
Or some other emotionally infused moment at which the song was present…
Such as sharing the song with a friend. Seeing the band perform in concert. Perhaps a sexually charged moment at which the song in question was playing in the background, or some poignant moment in which the season and sunlight were perfect, striking your eyes like polite needles through bare tree limbs in winter, as you walked along listening to a song that you had heard before, but will forever now be part of this particular memory, now. In addition to all the other times. Hearing it again later might open a cascade of events or times. Memories stacked or unfolding one upon another.
In many ways, the threads of emotion and feeling entwined in the music you love provide a greater gravity of sorts than visual or olfactory events. Listening to music is like dropping a black hole on your chest. Every time you drop a needle on a record, cue up a cassette, press play on your cd player or Ipod, you are at the event horizon of a lifetime of experience, awaiting to repeat over again and again this new/old aural adventure.
Any song can be a trigger. Any record can draw you through to the past, based on your personal experience with any particular song. It does not always have to be a favorite song. It can any random song or ditty, that invokes the past experience like a movie projected on your memory eye.
Sometimes this can be evoked by the very first time we hear a song. So that each subsequent listen takes us back to the initial exposure.
For instance, when I play Can’s “Ege Bamyasi” I can feel myself almost physically back in the record store in which I worked, playing the record for the first time after purchasing a copy from a customer’s stack of used records.
Or a song with which we are already familiar creates a new memory that supersedes prior listening. For me, for instance, this happened with “The Gift” by The Velvet Underground … which I heard one night or early morning … around 3 am … driving with two friends across the country, somewhere between Colorado and Iowa … racing in the flat dark on a highway, and the song came on over the radio … heightening the mood with a more intense sense of fear as half-asleep, I absorbed the lyrics and rhythmic feedback guitar.
And now whenever I play that track, there I am again, flying in a car across the plains.
Or the time I took acid and put on a record by Sonic Youth. “Expressway to yr. skull” ends with a locked groove, which means that the needle does not pick up when the song ends. Instead the record continues to play the same 20 or 30 seconds over and over, until you physically remove the needle from the record. But in the state I was in, and with time itself dilated by the drug, the locked groove might have played for an hour or more before I noticed it was repeating. Or was it only a few minutes that felt like an hour? Regardless, whenever that song comes up on my Ipod, I am hurled through a narrow tunnel of self experience, standing out of my head again in my small second storey apartment, the music swaying against the walls forever.
A very different, and emotionally charged, moment for me came after I first met my wife. We had only been dating for a few weeks when we went to her parents home and played some records. I remember her putting on “Seventeen” by the Sex Pistols, a record that, as a punk rock kid, I was extremely familiar with. Its meaning was changed in an instant. Now when I play that song I am back with my future wife in her childhood bedroom, surrounded by happy abrasive guitar.
These are but a few examples of time travel that I have experienced, thanks to music. There are hundreds, if not thousands, of such situations. I have been listening to music all of my life and collecting such memories and moments, piling them up and gathering new ones each time a song replays. I am then whisked off through my life which is now bigger on the inside.
I am sure you have the same sort of experiences. Music, after all, is a universal force that draws us together, from the past into the future.
God forbid I should ever be nice to people: it would ruin everything. – Lou Reed
Anthony DeCurtis’ Lou Reed: A Life, is likely to go down as the definitive biography of the legendary street poet rocker. As one of the few music journalists that the infamously prickly Reed got along with and a professor of creative writing, DeCurtis has the connections and the chops to thoroughly examine his subject’s life and art. One of my favorite parts of rock biographies is learning about the aspects of the musician that are unlike their stage persona. Not so with Lou Reed. He was on a lot of drugs (mostly speed) when he jammed out the original Velvet Underground songs with John Cale in a squalid apartment. He was in a very public three year relationship with a trans woman during his glam and “Rock and Roll Animal” phase in 70’s. He was sober, married and avidly into the NFL when he wrote “Average Guy”in the 80’s. His wonderful 1992 album Magic and Loss was about his friends who were dying at the time.
I have more Lou Reed solo records in my collection than any other artist. All of them, besides Berlin, have at least a couple irredeemable songs and a few of his albums are so misguided that I’m not entirely sure if the parts I like about them are even good. All of that said, I always come back to Lou Reed because he’s more on than almost anyone when he is being real. DeCurtis skillfully weaves what was going on in Reed’s life at the time with the songs in a way that keeps an impressively consistent psychological through-line on a volatile life. One aspect that struck me was Reed’s lingering resentment about the Velvet Underground. Although there was the short lived reunion in 1993, there are numerous stories of not just journalists, but close friends getting totally closed down by Lou for bringing it up. The famous Brian Eno quote about how “everyone who bought one of those 30,000 copies started a band,” was more of a reminder to Reed about the slights the group suffered decades ago than something to be incredibly proud of. He always thought his next record (perhaps even Metal Machine Music) was going to be not only his best, but also his big break into the mainstream, all the way up to the near universally derided Metallica collaboration, Lulu, which was his last major release before his 2013 death at the age of 71.
Iggy Pop said of Reed, “I think he’s one of the few guys or gals who’s been in this biz a long time and still has a feeling for the world around him. Most of the others just end up singing to the mirror.” When I put on a Lou Reed album, I know that I’m going to have him front and center, confronting me without a care for how it’s going to make me feel . He’s going to disappoint me with some misplaced jazz number, an unfortunate reworking of a Velvet’s song, or blow me away with how he can blend tenderness and cruelty with aplomb on the three part song “Street Hassle.” He does not comfortably slide into a new role like David Bowie or find a new sound to match the same relatable message like Bruce Springsteen. Instead, Reed inhabits a place where the antics are uncomfortably real, what sounds upbeat is going downhill and that he had no intention of writing a “Perfect Day”or “Heroin” again.
For a guy who shot up on stage, fired John Cale and openly sang about spousal abuse, Lou Reed found a kind of redemption in his relationship with musician and performance artist Laurie Anderson. DeCurtis goes into detail about the truly remarkable union between these equals, that is relatively rare for famous artists, especially given how late in life they met. The balance that they struck to continue their creative endeavors while still be a regular sight together in New York was the most unexpected and illuminating part of the biography. It is almost improbable to think that a man whose career aim and life choices were geared towards driving gaps between himself and his listeners and those close to him, found a such a resonant coda in his last marriage.
Lou Reed was extremely generous with friends who were dying, almost becoming as close in the final days as the family members. He worked to revitalize the careers of some of the fifties and sixties rockers he grew up idolizing such as Doc Pomus. He grew to be remorseful about his prior drug abuse and violent behavior toward women and was quite explicit about discussing it in his music. All of that said, Reed kept true to his maxim about being difficult. There are far more important things than being nice, but I found a few nuggets of Reed breaking character and decided to pair them with songs that aren’t so nice.
Known for a stripped down sound, Reed was a surprisingly serious music gear fiend who would show house guests his pedals and amps for hours. He also was an early adopter of the Atari system and would readily play video games with family friends’ children after he gave up the drugs and alcohol. Probably not where he was going with “Video Violence,” but it’s easy to imagine him getting really competitive in Pong.
As many New York celebrities in the 60’s and 70’s, Reed was on familiar terms with Dr. Richard Freymann, otherwise known as Dr. Feelgood for his special shots of amphetamine and vitamins. When boozy writer Ed McCormack was ill after a binge, Reed showed up early to drag him to Freymann’s office saying, “Don’t worry about it. This guy gets in early. And he can cure anything – including cirrhosis – as long as you’re honest with him about your habits.” Although McCormack only received X-rays on his liver and bill of good health, Reed footed the medical bill in advance. Here’s a knowing drinking song called “Underneath the Bottle” from the excellent Blue Mask.
Reed was supporting the release of his 1979 album The Bells at the Bottom Line and confronted his producer Clive Davis onstage, saying, “Where’s the money, Clive? How come I don’t hear my album on the radio?” Uncharacteristically, for the man who named his prior record Take No Prisoners, Reed issued an apology, saying, “I’ve always loved Clive and he happens to be one of my best friends. I just felt like having a business discussion from the stage. Sometimes out of frustrations you yell at those you love the most.” Apologies are pretty nice, especially when you can acknowledge your failings in business and friendship. Here’s “Stupid Man,” from the same album he thought was going to do so well on the radio.
Leonard Cohen fell for Nico from a distance and followed her around New York when he first arrived in the city. About one particularly lonely night, he said:
“I remember lingering by the bar, I was never good at that kind of hard work that’s involved with socializing, and a young man came over to me and said, ‘You’re Leonard Cohen, you wrote Beautiful Losers.’ which nobody had read, it only sold a few copies in America. And it was Lou Reed. He brought me over to a table full of luminaries – Andy Warhol, Nico. I was suddenly sitting at this table with the great spirits of the time.”
There is nothing that lifts a depressed writer’s spirits more than recognizing their obscure book and introducing them to the person they are hopelessly in love with. We’ll end with “Berlin,” which sure seems like it is about Nico.
DeCurtis, Anthony, Lou Reed: A Life. Little Brown and Co., 2017.
Simmons, Sylvie, I’m Your Man. Ecco, 2012.