Friday, October 24, 2014

Take a Walk on the Wild Side

In 1970, Lou Reed quit The Velvet Underground, the band he founded that would later be recognized as one of the lead pioneering groups in punk rock. The following year, he released his first solo album, Lou Reed, and the year after that he released his second album, Transformer. Reeds musical style represented an emerging style of music, something completely new. While at the time of its release, Transformer received some praise, it later went on to be named on multiple best album lists.

The most popular song on the album, Walk on the Wild Side, gained Reed new commercial success in the industry and also broke barriers for rock song topics. Walk on the Wild Side is a quieter, deadpanned song narrated by Reed about some of the companions of Andy Warhol, who was subsequently one of Reed's friends, and a prominent postmodern artist. These companions, "Holly," "Candy," "Jo," and "Jackie," are the transvestite and transgender members of Warhol's films for which he received much critical acclaim. The song addresses not only transvestites, but also the previously semi-tabooed topics of oral sex, prostitution, drug use, and overdosing. For example, Reed sings, 
"Candy came from out in the Island
In the backroom she was everybody's darling
But she never lost her head
even when she was giving head"
This references the transvestite actress, Candy Darling, who would perform sexual favors (such as oral sex) for money after some of her shows. There's also the line about "Jackie... speeding away," which references another actress' drug addiction. And of course, there is the repeating chorus, "Hey baby, take a walk on the wild side" which seems to promote this kind of behavior. In general, the song caused controversy by its promotion of these nontraditional lifestyles. 

While A Visit From the Goon Squad is by no means about transvestites, it is similar to Walk on the Wild Side in its portrayal of the odd, nontraditional people who work in the art and music industry, as well as the questionable lifestyle choices. These choices are reflected in both works in the drug use, thrill seeking behaviors, and loose sexuality of multiple characters, such as Bennie, Sasha, Rhea, and Lou. Lou's name may even be a reference to Lou Reed. The forms of the two pieces are alike too in that a narrator, sometimes transitioning, sometimes constant, describes scenes from the lives of one of these characters at a time. And in these scenes, the audience can get short but revealing glimpses of the characters' lives, as well a broader understanding for the artistic rock environment evident in both pieces. 

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