Monday, December 18, 2006

Berlin Finally Gets Its Due

Oh how I wish I was in New York right now.
In 1973 Lou Reed stepped into a studio with producer Bob Ezrin to cut the follow up to his surprising smash album Transformer. RCA had been pleased, and perhaps stunned, enough by Transformers success to give Lou and Ezrin complete control in make the album they wanted to make. Lou Reed not content with making Transformer Two recorded a song cycle set in the divided city of Berlin chronicling the lives of a Caroline and Jim. It would take the earlier ideas of divorce and separation from Sinatra's Watertown and plunge as deep as possible into the depths of abuse, addiction and finally a strange sort of redemption.
Upon hearing part of an early mix Rolling Stone proclaimed it to be 'The Sgt.Pepper of the 70's' and a perplexed RCA gave it a royal red carpet arrival with ads and a beautiful fold out sleeve and full lyric sheet. This was beyond Rock and Roll, this was Lou Reed's Brechtian masterpiece that would shove him so far ahead that a new genre was created, 'Lou Reed music'.
The album was lambasted upon first release. Rolling Stone retracted it's initial praise in a scathing review. Lester Bangs famously called it 'The most depressing album ever made.' and it was a commercial bomb.
Swiftly though the album became something of a legend and it's influence starting reaching. David Bowie and Iggy Pop would relocate to Berlin just a few years later to record a mind bending genius set of albums including The Idiot and Low that would reshape rock as we knew it. Berlin as a divided city became a constant reference point for the punk and post-punk movement and it seemed as though Lou Reed's overly ambitious failure had had more influence than anyone could have imagined.
Then the 80's and it was gone again.
I first heard Berlin on it's first cd release in the late 80's. It was the second cd I ever bought, right behind Deborah Harry's Def Dumb and Blonde, and I got it before I even had a player. I remember very clearly taking it to a friends house, who had a player, and the first spinning of that dark and intense tale had a major effect on me.
It would slip in and out of print through the 90's until RCA finally saw fit to remaster it properly at the turn of the decade. Seemingly the story would end there as it's always been an album that divided people but Lou Reed always seemed to know what he had made was something special.
Lou Reed's Berlin lives again at St Ann's Warehouse in New York where it's being performed in it's entirety by Lou for the first time. Directed by artist Julian Schnabel and featuring film scenes projected behind the band by Lola Schnabel of the lovely and talented Emmanuelle Seigner the album is getting performed straight through followed by a short encore.
The reviews have been nothing short of ecstatic, everyone from the New York Times to Rolling Stone is pouring out praise to a piece of art that has deserved it for a very long time.
While I am not in New York to see it I have been fortunate enough to hear an audio recording of the first night and it is majestic. The band featuring Steve Hunter is playing like their lives depend on it and Lou himself seems energized by it. From the first line of 'In Berlin by the wall' to the very end of Sad Song he hits that perfect passionate monotone tone that he became so legendary for. Along with jaw dropping stabs of lead guitar it is to quote, 'One of the greatest performances in the history of live music.'
I hope the praise keeps coming because as legendary as he is Lou Reed the solo artist is still underrated. Dylan, Cohen, em but ultimately keep em as I have a date with a tall strung out Germanic Queen and it's been a long time coming.

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