This was the first song I loved from Lou Reed. I can’t remember how I came across it; it may have been from hearing his fantastic rendition of Dylan’s Foot of Pride at the 1992 Dylan tribute 30th Anniversary Concert. Their are few renditions of Dylan’s songs which my ears appreciate more than the original, but Foot of Pride is one of them.
Today’s featured track – Dirty Blvd is from Lou’s 1989 album New York. It contrasts the rich and poor from New York City and topped the Billboard chart for four weeks. What really blew my mind was the grit and backbone of the music and lyrics. I knew when I first heard Dirty Blvd, that this was taking me somewhere I needed to go and it wasn’t going to be pretty. Despite having a simple three-chord progression; a repeated sequence of G D A D the song goes way deep.
Pedro lives out of the Wilshire Hotel
He looks out a window without glass
The walls are made of cardboard, newspapers on his feet
And his father beats him ’cause he’s too tired to beg.
He’s got nine brothers and sisters
They’re brought up on their knees
It’s hard to run when a coat hanger beats you on the thighs
Pedro dreams of being older and killing the old man
But that’s a slim chance, he’s going to the boulevard
NYC is in Lou’s Blood. Like Woody Allen as a movie director from New York who showcased the city in many movies most notably Manhattan, Lou did the same musically, but from an obtusely different angle. This was his city. Hal Wilner said that “Tourists would see him and Laurie [Anderson] on the street and know they’d been to New York.”. The city had a profound impact on nearly all his artistic endeavours spanning from Andy Warhol’s Factory to Lincoln Center.
Using simple, observational lyrics as a tool to highlight underlying issues of society, he had the ability to establish an emotional bond between the listener and almost any subject using only a few words. Remember when Dirty Blvd was written, it was at the height of the AIDS epidemic and the city was on the brink of Depression. Lou hoped that by highlighting the issues in his songs, it may become a launching pad to solving some of the problems or at least exposing them.