Hudson River Wind Meditations
All of a sudden, I have racing thoughts. Vacation planning! Gigs drying up, new ones starting! Weather changes! The line at the coffee shop being too long, the credit card machine at the other coffee shop broken! All these things are minor problems, if they can even be called problems, but they are swirling around my head like bats holding strobe lights, pushing me right over the edge into madness. The view from the road that circles madness is a nice drive: lots of immaculate vistas, descent roadside attraction, but just over the rail, its horrible. I'm guess it's seasonal, since I routinely become completely overwhelmed around this time every year.
I used to work with a guy that suffered this problem on shorter intervals. He'd trot in to work looking like unholy shit, eyes sunken like a zombie. He was a nice mild-mannered man from the suburbs bearing none of the Destructo-Tron 2000 machismo of the country alcoholic/drug addict, so it never added up. One day he was standing by my desk, perusing the tapes I had stacked up (this was a while back) and started talking about John Coltrane. He was a hard-core progressive listener - like not just Yes and King Crimson but the deep obscurities therein, like Gong and Soft Machine off-shoots. Though prog was not then nor now my bag, I like anyone into music deep enough you have to dig for it. He explained that he had a mental condition where he was physically unable to sleep for days at a time, so he would just sit up in his living room, letting the warm splash of Progressive rock soothe his fractured nerves. I asked him for the best record to remedy this situation, since I was engaging in my own totally-wired-ness at the same time, and he said, without peer, it was Lou Reed's 1975 album Metal Machine Music. He'd picked it up on vinyl back when it came out since he was a big Rock 'n' Roll Animal adherent and instead of feeling conned like most people, he found that its jagged edges and subliminal machinations under all the feedback and fuzz wedged in perfectly with his fucked brain chemistry. I'd only heard of the record, so he graciously brought it in to work and loaned it to me. I can honestly say that despite my noise-loving tendencies, I don't really buy into that record's purported brilliance. It kinda sounds like just a bunch of static to me, but I love ol' Lou for being Lou, and for helping my friend flatten his neurons so he could get some sleep.
Fast forward 20 years after Metal Machine Music threw the severed head of what-art-is-and-what-it-ain't on the table, after countless albums of incredible honesty (New York, Street Hassle, Magic and Loss), sneering insouciance (Coney Island Baby, New Sensations) and befuddling duds (The Bells, Mistrial) and inspiring millions of singer-songwriters and anti-singer-songwriters alike (I wonder what Bob Dylan says about Lou Reed, being that he sits staring at himself like Buddha from both sides of that fence) and he comes to this: yoga music. I mentioned to a number of deep music nerd types that I was reviewing the new Lou Reed, hoping they had heard about this minor travesty against Cool, and they were completely unaware it existed. It is indeed a CD of yoga music, on a yoga music label. Suddenly Metal Machine Music doesn't seem like such a gear-stripping career shift.
Looking for a foothold, I re-read the Lester Bangs interviews with King Death Insect Lou where he sorta doesn't explain the reasoning behind MMM and Lester tries to pry a justification and apology for it and getting both, and all I really gleaned from it is: Lou Reed does what he wants and has the brass ones to sell it, and therein lies the beauty of Lou Reed, and of rock 'n' roll in general. Not reaction, just action. And that's why this album of rather uneventful ambience, much like its predecessor MMM whose creator claims it to be hyper-eventful ambience - that so much is going on it blends into static, comes off as something of a triumph of the will.
The music here is explained as personal soundtracks Lou made to accompany his recent interest in meditation and martial arts, and much in the same way his rock albums come off as rock about ten years behind the times but somehow better than the current style, this sounds like Wyndham Hill/Brian Eno pre-techno ambience laced with the slightest twinge of swagger. And perhaps that swagger is completely imprinted by my wanting it to be there - I accuse a friend of mine of the very same thing when he constantly plays Lou's 1982 comeback The Blue Mask. The two main pieces "Move Your Heart" and "Find Your Note" both run a simple bio-electronic impulse throb for about half an hour each with little variation. I must admit, even though I often like the hum of power lines captured in song, I wouldn't be talking about this record if it had a different author. He tacked on two shorter pieces at the end: "Hudson River Wind (Blend the Ambience) which is a white noise pallet cleanser before the more song-ish version of "Move Your Heart's" wadddddlllllllleeeewhooooommmmmppppp entitled "Wind Coda," neither of which add or detract form the message as a whole.
I was ready to write this thing off, uneasily accepting the fact that there was a Lou Reed album that I had no opinion about, but a traffic snarl saved it from the scrap heap. Instead of waiting it out, I decided to cut off and take the extra long way home on River Road, which hugs the monotonous Mississippi River levee. Its curves are so fun to drive, even in a low-performance car like mine. The loping throb of this record contoured with the road, resembling the easy, palpable synchronization one would get committing the ultimate tourist clich?© of listening to Autobahn on the Autobahn. I can't argue with the numbers. Once "Move Your Heart" finished and I approached downtown, I made an abrupt u-turn to let the second track bore into my psyche some more. Much I the way my friend's broken nervous system was coaxed into sleep by Metal Machine Music, Hudson River Wind Meditations flattened out the wrinkles of anxiety in which I found myself snarled. I did T'ai Chi for a while about 15 tears ago in the most pretentious, look-at-me-meditate way possible, and this CD would have wedged nicely with my dalliance. My T'ai Chi instructor played this frighteningly generic spa music during class, tepid drizzle that distracted me from my goal of inner peace. With this CD, blaring its sine wave goodbye to the world around me, I might have finally levitated or sprouted roots or whatever T'ai Chi was supposed to do for me.
Like I said, I love Lou Reed for his missteps as well as his triumphs, they way he is cool as fuck and corny as fuck and inversely corny/cool for it and can somehow always pull it off. And as I zipped along the levee, with the purr of this CD cranked as loud as it would go, attempting to jump into hyperspace or something, I thought about Metal Machine Music and Lou Reed and his pangender keeper Rachel, lounging on a hotel bed in Gramercy Park while Lester Bangs failed to make any headway or lose any ground, and how one morning, I happened to call an old co-worker on the morning of my sleepless friend's funeral. His stretches of sleeplessness had gotten longer and more frequent, the last one lasting about five days. Nothing worked - sedatives, doctors, total darkness - until he found his way to a gun. His copy of Metal Machine Music sat long unlistened-to on my shelf next to the worn grooves of New York and I didn't entertain any foolish what-if scenarios stemming from my failing to return the album to him, and wisely resisted the tacky urge to place the record along with the wreaths at the funeral home. Because if Lou reed has taught me anything, is that to accept the enlightenment of melodrama and to know oneself at all, one must do it with a sense of style.
Alex V. Cook listens to everything and writes about most of it. His latest book, the snappily titled Louisiana Saturday Night: Looking for a Good Time in South Louisiana's Juke Joints, Honky-Tonks, and Dance Halls is an odyssey from the backwoods bars and small-town dives to the swampside dance halls and converted clapboard barns of a Louisiana Saturday Night. Don't leave Heathrow without it. His first book Darkness Racket and Twang is available from SideCartel. The full effect can be had at alex v cook.com