The thoughts I have on Lou Reed or Metal Machine Music (hereafter MMM) are probably not original. They may even be wrong in every direction imaginable. But with Reed, there never seemed to be right or wrong, just is.
I wouldn’t say I was/am punk, but I love punk music. Or what at least passed for punk in the heartland of America. Sex Pistols, 999, The Slits, The Stooges and The Velvet Underground. But after a 3rd (maybe even 4th) generation copy of No New York found its way into my hands the chaos of noise became my sound refuge.
Metal Machine Music became the Holy Grail of noise. I’d read Lester Bangs’ famous review, declaring it the 2nd best album ever, just behind Kiss Alive! It was something people had heard about but never heard. The idea alone subject to ridicule. How, the question went, could anyone listen to that much noise? That much nothing? The most anyone would allow in MMM’s favor was that it was a joke, and unsubtle F**k You to the music industry. Or his fans. Or Andy Warhol. Or John Cale. Or John Cage. Or John Carson.
Everyone had a theory. Everyone had an opinion. And no one had ever heard a moment of the damn thing to back up these theories and opinions.
A couple years back, I was able to purchase a digital copy of the album. Theory and opinion would bow to the truth.
Some albums you wait for, like Chinese Democracy, only to realize the idea of the album is better than the actual disc. Metal Machine Music did not disappoint me. MMM was an audio and ethereal assault on my mind. The album is better than the idea.
There is no warm up. There is no easing into the sound—from the moment of play the feedback and distortion hit you. Instantly you react. You are given no choice. You hate it. You like it. This is not a disc that calls for maybe. This wants you to react at a primal level. Fight or Flight.
There is no wrong, there is no right, there just is. If you think it is just a ball of noise, then that is what you will hear. But if in that moment of primal reaction you go towards the noise, then something happens.
You find melody. You find patterns. The discordant nature of noise finds itself twisting into a pattern. You might even convince yourself you find themes and movements within the Parts and album as a whole. This cacophony is forced into something which can be described as a raw beauty.
It makes me question what is art? What is music? Is it all, like Andy said, what you can get away with?
And that is where I come back to this question: Does everyone have it wrong? I mean, both the people who love it and those who hate it? Are they both wrong? By dismissing it, either outright or after a ‘chance’, aren’t you missing out on possibly the greatest experiment in abstract art? And if you love it, aren’t you a fool for elevating noise to the level of art?
Are we all wrong?
All I know is sometime in 1975 Lou Reed recorded a double album called Metal Machine Music. He didn’t give us a blank canvas-he provided a fully covered one-and we still don’t know what we are looking at. Even if you love it, you don’t know what it is! Is it art? Is it crap? Is it even music? Is it even noise?
It just is.