Berlin, Lou Reed (RCA Records, 1973)

BERLIN 1973: the city thick with women with fox-stole eyes, shattered glass and junkie Schoeneberg faggots seeking out yet another fix. And, then, police find a chick’s skeleton, shot through the temple, in the woods near Munich.

Call this bitching Katzenmusik where jacked-up ‘sons of good fortune’ slug it out on the streets, or end up in the Dead Section of some penitentiary. Makes me smile, this; I recall LaMonte Young naming the Velvets ‘cat gut music’.

City streets are sheeted by ice, crumbling underfoot as I walk it. Track one: some piano, the two of them in a café where the guitars play. And that devil-guy counting down; eins, zwei, drei, vier ... At the autopsy, the doctor said her brain was TV static, like rows of needles in a lab, from shooting herself up with pills.

‘Poison is the essence of the performer,’ according to that old bore, Nico, my Germanic Queen, ha. Track two: oh-oh-oh Lady Day, when she walked down the street she was like a child staring at her feet. I open the door, velvet and tassled. Track three.

Here is the border zone. Eyes glazed, staring at me.

(Extract from my essay on Lou Reed's 1973 record, Berlin, 'The Hamlet of electricity' that I published some years ago - read it here).

So beautiful the classic rendition, with the sensitive piano accompaniment provided by John Cale, especially the way it works with/against the jarring guitar when it comes in. Compare it with this perhaps more standard version from the same year, recorded in New York.  

I'm still looking for my favourite, though where Lou Reed introduces it with words to the effect that this is his Marlene Dietrich number. That said, the vocal delivery on the album version is so touching, the way it holds back. 

In the essay I spent time concentrating on the track 'Oh Jim' which I still think is one of the most intelligent, subtle songs I have ever heard in terms of the way it unsettles perspective. 

Berlin is a record of great import for me, mapping out the trajectory of the human heart ...