Monday, October 27, 2014

DB's Song of the Day (day 300): "SOME KINDA LOVE" (1993) Velvet Underground

Today marks the first anniversary of the death of Lou Reed. Last year, when the news hit, I wrote a tribute and so far on this series I’ve posted on three Reed songs, two he recorded in his solo career, and one on the first Velvet Underground album. For today, I’ve selected a song from the Velvet Underground reunion that took place in 1993 for a short European tour—and the album drawn from three concerts, three nights in Paris. It seems to me fitting as Reed and guitarist Sterling Morrison are both gone (Morrison since 1995) and so why not pay tribute to the most recent time when all the original VU members worked together?

What’s more, because John Cale was only on the first two Velvet Underground albums, and since I prefer the third album, without him, to the second album (the songs on Velvet Underground, 1969, are simply better than the songs on White Light/White Heat), it’s of interest to me to hear this live treatment of “Some Kinda Love” (originally on the third album) as though it’s a second album song. Get it? White Light/White Heat is the noisiest VU album; Velvet Underground is the quietest. In 1993, the “noise” factor is increased considerably, with Morrison doing one of his more extended guitar solos and Cale coming in at the end with a wonderfully disjointed electric piano solo.

Lou’s vocals can be a bit erratic on the released recording of the shows, as he seems to want to treat words as excuses for dragging out syllables, as though he’s trying to create a melodic line, when we all know that Reed’s great gift as a singer is to sound as though melody were the furthest thing from his mind. Oftentimes in his career he more or less talks rhythmically, but I suppose the rigors of playing live made him feel an urge to work his vocals a bit more.  His approach is particularly extreme on “Beginning to See the Light” where you’re happy for Cale’s attempt to deliver “how does it feel to be loved” more or less straight while Lou does his vocal hiccups.

“Some Kinda Love” suffers a bit from the tendency, but in general Reed keeps his eye on the ball, probably because it’s one of the more interesting lyrics from his VU days. In fact the opening verse is so good, it’s worth quoting in full: “In some kinds of love,” Marguerita told Tom, / “Between thought and expression lies a lifetime / Situations arise [here “evolve”] / Because of the weather / And no kinds of love / Are better than others” / La-di-ta-ta-ta

There you have two little comments that amount to something of a philosophical position. One is that “love” is something that must find its proper expression—and that the quest to find the right occasion might take a lifetime. Your expression may lag far behind your conception, in other words. The second statement is in two parts: the part about situations and the weather is a way of saying that there’s a certain je ne sais quoi to what makes love “happen,” and what makes love “depart.” It comes and goes, we might say, like the weather, but there’s also a certain pragmatism embedded in that in the same way that, y’know, you dress according to the weather. Similarly do you make up your mind how to “dress” appropriately for the “situations” of love. Finally, there’s a very open-minded embrace of whatever might arise (or evolve), as no kinds of love are better than others. A flat out statement not simply of equanimity but also of equality. As Andy Partridge says in “Peter Pumpkinhead”: “Any kind of love is alright.” How could one condemn an actual love?

The song goes on in this vein with Marguerita giving Tom the what-for. Going so far as calling him “a bore”—“but in that you’re not charmless.” One imagines that this is not an usual position as women can find bores charming much as men can find bitches charming, when the mood (or the weather) thus strikes. Though the end of Marguerita’s magnanimous gesture toward the lovableness of a bore ends with “and some kinds of love are mistaken for vision.” Which should give us a pause if we feel inclined to give ourselves too much credit in this romance biz. I take the sentiment to suggest that, though you might feel you are a giving person in allowing for the charm of bores, you are still self-serving. Love is a dish, we might say, that one cooks for oneself, then looks to find someone else who shares the taste and the appetite for the concoction.

The bridge, about putting jelly on your shoulder to do what you fear most, is odd but it leads to one of those moments when Lou Reed gets a bit more forthcoming than usual: “that from which you recoil but which still makes your eyes moist.” There you have his typical perversity, which might be something of an oxymoron. Reed knows that the thing that makes you uneasy is the thing you secretly crave, or at least is the thing to which you have a strong visceral connection and his point here is that “some kinda love” can be unpleasant, and make you anxious, and make you like that jelly. “Lie down upon the carpet / Between thought and expression / Let us now kiss the culprit.” I guess we’re a little closer to seeing the thought made flesh, so to speak.

The version of the song on Velvet Underground has a distinctive swirling guitar sound and a very lambent vocal from Reed. And that’s fine, but I like hearing the song become, live in ’93, one of those epic workouts I love so much on Live ’69 (also, sans Cale). So let’s hear it for the reunited VU even if it was just for the money. And let’s hear it for our lost Lou and his thoughts and expressions.

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