Between Thought And Expression
Lou Reed: Transformer In Depth
My god, this is good. I don’t even like Transformer that much, but it’s undeniably foundational… and it’s great. It’s just not my favorite Lou. GET OFF MY ASS. This is my site. I can like what I want. Remember when I posted that Velvet Underground documentary? You don’t own me. Where’s my whistle?
Ok. Here’s the deal. Transformer is a hugely influential album because (mainly):
- It’s the first (real) Lou Reed solo album
- David Bowie (a huge Velvets fan) produced it
- Mick Ronson (bowie’s guitarist) did the arranging (and there’s some pure beauty)
- Herbie Flowers has that awesome overdubbed Standup/Electric bass line for Walk On The Wild Side
- The whole album is gender fluid, queer as fuck, and very very very ahead of it’s time, topic-wise
- It is the Shadow Lord of the glam movement. T-Rex and Ziggy Stardust would be more saccharine without Transformer to counterbalance.
The story of how I found a streaming copy of this episode of Classic Albums is wild and the stuff of legend. I had eaten a legal edible cannabis candy (50mg THC) and I was extremely high. Almost too high. Pulling myself together enough to do anything was akin to hugging smoke. However, I had a flash of epiphany and searched on Bing, because if you search for videos on google, you get almost exclusively YouTube results. Is it because Google owns YouTube? I would say so. There was no full version of this episode of Classic Albums on YouTube. A lesser man would have given up, but I went to Bing instead.
Bing provided about a half dozen full versions, on various sites of dubious legality (lots of Russian). Who cares? I found one on a Russian tube site, and watched it. It was a low resolution copy (like watching YouTube on 240) but totally adequate. Luckily I know a little Russian, thanks to Cold War paranoia and high school Russian classes. Using my knowledge of the Cyrillic alphabet I was able to find not only a high resolution version, but a longer version! There’s like an additional half hour of interviews and performances here. Holy Shit.
Anyway. Watch this. It’s absolutely riveting. My favorite part is when Lou is listening to the multitrack of Perfect Day, and he isolates only the strings. It’s perfectly sublime and beautiful, easily as lovely as the strings on Eleanor Rigby (if not as complex), and Lou’s face changes and he freezes. You can tell that he hasn’t heard that in a long time, and he’s moved by the beauty. He then praises Mick Ronson’s arrangement, and it’s touching, and real.
It’s totally worth the hour and half to watch. Or even listen to at work. You can even buy it on DVD like a grown up. You are absolutely free.