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This Sucks!…(Don’t) Try This: Lou Reed, “Metal Machine Music”

First things first:  Happy Birthday to Jefito!  Jeff is, as you know, my gay somewhat heterosexual musical lifemate.  He inspired this site, he designed this site, and he writes the entries for me serves as my creative consultant.  And what better way to celebrate the day of his birth than to highlight what a jerk he is?

A number of months ago,  Jeff started playing a game with me.  While I fully admit to starting this "game," I didn’t do it with bad intentions – and now I’m being punished for it.

Back in the Fall, Jeff had mentioned to me that Stephen Thomas Erlewine of All Music Guide has given Paris Hilton’s debut (and hopefully only) CD 4.5 stars.  Jeff couldn’t believe it.  In truth, neither could I.  However, I had heard "Stars Are Blind" at the gym, and didn’t hate it, so I downloaded the album and sent it on to Jeff to see what he thought.  What I didn’t know at the time was:

1)  Jeff didn’t like Paris Hilton.
2)  Jeff didn’t want to listen to Paris Hilton.
3)  By sending the album, Jeff felt he was forced (forced!) to listen to Paris Hilton.

I agree with Jeff that if people send you music, you should do everything in your power to listen to it.  I do, indeed, listen to just about everything that comes my way.  However, I don’t force myself to do it immediately because I simply don’t have enough hours in the day to listen to everything in my queue, and I know I’ll get to it eventually.  I think the reason Jeff doesn’t understand this is because he’s a housewife.

Anyway, so Jeff listened to the whole album – I didn’t even listen to the whole album – got another great post out of it, and promptly informed me that he was going to "repay" me.

And thus the game began.  That was when Jeff sent me Only In America, Volume 2, which I posted – twice! – and most of you rightfully ignored.

Not long after, Jeff apologized to me.  "I just finished listening to most of "Only in America Volume 2," he said. "In terms of musical retribution, it may have been overkill."

So when I recently sent him Andrew Ridgeley’s Son Of Albert CD – a response to merciless ribbing – you’d think he would have kept the above apology in mind.

But he didn’t.  As you may have read over at his site, he retaliated by sending me Lou Reed’s Metal Machine Music.

I hesitantly opened up the Amazon packaging.  "Aw, Lou Reed?" I thought.  "Damn him!"  Of course, this was just based on me thinking this was Lou Reed in general.  I had no idea what Metal Machine Music was all about.

Plenty has been said about Metal Machine Music.  I don’t need to regurgitate it here (after all, that’s what my usual posts are for!).  Here are a few choice excerpts from the Wiki:

Metal Machine Music is generally considered to be either a joke, a begrudging fulfillment of a contractual obligation, or an early example of noise music. Reed has since contradicted popular sentiment, stating that "I was serious about it. I was also really, really stoned." However, as the last sentence in Reed’s liner notes to the recording would suggest, some motivation to release Metal Machine Music came as a reaction to restricting contractual obligations from RCA at the time; the sentence, "My week beats your year." Lou Reed claimed in the liner notes to have invented heavy metal music, and that this album was the ultimate conclusion for that genre.

According to Reed (despite the original liner notes), the album entirely consists of guitar feedback played at different speeds. The two guitars were tuned in unusual ways and played with different reverb levels. He would then place the guitars in front of their amplifiers, and the feedback from the very large amps would vibrate the strings – the guitars were, effectively, playing themselves. He recorded the work on a four-track tape recorder in his New York apartment, mixing the four tracks for stereo.

I read all of this and thought, "how bad could it be?"

Lou Reed – Metal Machine Music, Part I (don’t download)

I’m serious.  Don’t download it unless you are prepared.  Because I wasn’t prepared.  I waited until everyone left the office for the day.  Then, I put on Track 1.  All sixteen minutes and ten seconds of it.

In Jeff’s post on Andrew Ridgeley, he listened to the music and intelligently discussed its shortcomings from both musical and lyrical points of view.  I can’t do the same for Metal Machine Music.  I don’t think I’m qualified to do so.  Instead, I decided to go with my gut and just respond instinctually to the noises coming through my speakers.  Wouldn’t Lou Reed approve of my impulsiveness?  Don’t think, just emote.

I did this in a few different phases.  I tried not to subject casual readers to the entire thing in one long post, but for some reason, my "more after the jump" button isn’t working.  So too bad, folks, for Jeff’s birthday, you’re going to have to suck it up and read it all below.

For starters, I listened to the track at work.  I quickly typed out all my thoughts as I was listening to track #1.  Then, once my teeth stopped hurting, I popped three Advil and left for the day.

A few days later, I figured I’d let some friends listen to the track and videotape their responses.  This backfired on me; one buddy said it "sucked" but was uncomfortable with being filmed, so I wasn’t getting the appropriate looks of horror that I would have gotten had I not been holding a camera.  My brother was the other subject, and his response was "I have tons of full albums that sound like this!"

In the second stage, I came home, put on my headphones, cued up track #1, and set up my MacBook Pro to randomly take photos of me every few seconds.  Being a natural ham, I hid the camera window so I couldn’t see how or when it was taking photos of me, and tried to forget the camera was there.  (Note "tried."  I’m still a ham.)  It took about 60 photos; I picked out the best (or worst) of the bunch.

In both cases – writing and photo-taking – I went through Kubler-Ross’ Five Stages Of Grief:

Denial ("I’m not really going to listen to this whole thing; this is ridiculous!")
Anger ("What the fuck is wrong with someone that would send another person this album?")
Bargaining ("I’ll never send him anything again, so long as I don’t have to finish this album.")
("I hate myself for listening to Lou Reed.")
Acceptance ("I have yet to reach this stage.")

So enough talk.  Here are the two phases.  For better or for worse.

Phase 1: Live-Blogging "Metal Machine Music, Part I."

This isn’t so bad…
wow, that feedback is a little annoying.  hope that goes away.
it’s not going away.
This is hurting my ears.
how many more minutes of this?
oh jesus christ.

I’m only 2:43 in.  Oh my god.
This is a reissue?  How can you tell?

(two minutes later)
It’s not stopping.

5:25: I almost heard a note!

Oh god, make it stop.
It’s so hissy.
I’m not even halfway through the first track.

Seven minutes left in track 1, and then I have to turn this off.  IT HURTS.  IT HURTS MY HEAD.

Sadly, though, this is like my favorite Lou Reed song.

Five minutes left.  I can do this.  I can do this!

I can’t do this.

I really thought I’d be able to listen to the whole thing.

Is that a girl screaming?

Or a cat?

I think I hear a guitar chord.

Oh wait, no, it’s just more feedback.

Oh my god.  My stomach hurts.

I’m literally pulling my hair, begging it to stop.

2:30 left.

I think my lower teeth just began to ache.

58 seconds left, the longest 58 seconds of my mother fucking life.

Is my face melting?

oh god, it’s done.  Oh, thank god it’s done!

Phase 2:  Live Photos During "Metal Machine Music, Part I"

This file is a little sloppy, but you’ll get the point.  This is also a good video to watch if you only want to hear the first 1:45 of "Metal Machine Music, Part I."


Anyway, the moral of the story is that Jeff is a bad person, and even though he tries to fool all of you into thinking he’s a thoughtful journalist with a soft spot for bad Bee Gees songs, he’s really got a mean streak that makes mine look like a mere outburst from The Tigger Movie.  But of course, the game didn’t end here:  I retaliated by sending Jeff a copy of The Glory (????) Of The Human Voice by Florence Foster Jenkins.  I picked it after I saw a review entitled "Florence’s voice caused my dog to shake in fear."  And so…the game continues.

  • I kind of love FloFo. When I met Lini she was assisting on the original run of Souvenir, which she followed to Broadway. Florence is tuneless, but charmingly so. She was the William Hung of her day.
    It’s hardly a worthy rejoinder to Metal Machine Music. Since TWIR may never see the light of day, allow me to reproduce my TWIR comment on the subject here.
    Also, while I approve of sending horrible music to your friends, I am also on the record that sending anyone "Metal Machine Music" for any reason, is a low blow. Sending Metal Machine Music in response to the Andrew Ridgeley solo album is like responding to a drive by shooting with a full scale, extinction level nuclear holocaust. I am not saying sending someone the Andrew Ridgeley the solo album is a nice thing to do. Far from it in fact. But honestly, Metal Machine Music? For shame, Jefito.
    The YouTube clip is adorable. Like a little love note from Jason to Jeff.

  • Simon

    I bought MMM on tape back in the late eighties when my interest in Lou was hitting full stride. The thing is, I’d read reviews of it, so I knew pretty much exactly what I was gonna get. I think I made it through about 3 minutes in total.Maybe you should respond with Tom Waits’ The Black Rider.

  • The video was priceless… thanks for making me laugh despite having to listen to the 1+ minute of that awful noise!

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  • Old Davy

    I now have a headache.  Seriously.  I didn’t have one before watching the video, but I do now.Shame on you for trying to put the phones on the cat!  The ASPCA will be knocking on your door soon, Jason!

  • That was my favorite part…

  • Oddly enough, the cat didn’t seem to mind.  She actually listened.  She didn’t like it when I tried to put the headphones on her.

  • I guess it’s a good thing I didn’t send you the Lou Reed shirt for your birthday.

  • Actually, I was hoping you were going to send me some of your old notebooks.

  • I think a better response to the nightmare of MMM is Duck Stab or Not Available by The Residents. By the way, you guys make me wish I was your friend.

  • jb

    Quick! To the Mellow Mobile!

  • Oh.. My.. God.. No.. This nuclear musical war is escalating into dangerous territory. How many thousands of dollars will it cost you to replace all of the windows that certainly shattered around your home while enduring that Puke Reed madness? Isn’t there anything in the Geneva Convention about torture of this kind? And now Jefito will get Florence Foster Jenkins in retaliation? I am very very afraid for you, for certainly he will find something to top all of this. Darn you, Paris Hilton.. you started this!!! I hope you enjoy your time in the big house.

  • Fucking best. Post. Ever. I have been laughing at this all day. Thanks, buddy.

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  • Was it re-mastered?
    With bonus tracks?

  • EightE1

    I wonder which one of them will hit the other with Jandek.  Ready for the House, anyone?

  • Wow. Just wow. This is what would happen if robots played electronic bagpipes set on random. It’s very hurty.Though I gotta tell ya, I forgot all about FF Jenkins. I think I’ve found my best friend’s birthday present (and before you get on me, I’ve got Patty Duke’s CD from him)2sc

  • Dave

    There’s a point in Part I which, to my ears, sounds like the last sounds heard by kittens in a burlap bag thrown in the river.Or is it Part III? I forget.

  • 2fs

    Ya buncha wimps. MMM is restful, actually, once you get over the fact that it’s like dentistry for the ears. Without anaesthetic. With rusty equipment. Dipped in battery acid. And done by a hungover dentist who just ate a whole bag of Extreme Ranch Doritos followed by a forty of stale malt liquor and who hasn’t bathed for a week.Try "Das Schaben" by Einsturzende Neubauten (add umlauts to taste).

  • SnOOd

    I think Jefito and Jason may have accidentally stumbled onto the answer to every nation’s crime problems. No more death sentence, no more jails, just lotsa MMM.
    Just the threat of having to endure the entire METAL MACHINE MUSIC album might just be the answer.  
    Misdemeanor offences might incur one whole listening.
    Felonies on a weighted scale by duration and volume.
    Those that actually enjoy the punishment would be thrown into sanitoriums for major evaluation.

  • wardo

    To add to the sheer comedy, here’s Lester Bangs’s classic defense of this album. (I haven’t read it in a while, but it might include the aside about how he had a copy on 8-track so he could play it in his car.)


  • MC

    This is one funny post… but you should include a warning at the top for those of us who read this stuff at work.  I think there is a pretty good chance I’ll fired today for the complaints about my laughing out loudly and snorting up coffee out of my nose. Thanks.

  • Dan

    I’d like to add that, while maybe no one would have argued this, MMM is NOT the first test of fan loyalty of this type from a major label act. On the contrary, Chicago did it on their DEBUT album (a DOUBLE-LP at that!) with Terry Kath’s "Free Form Guitar". The main difference being that Kath’s 6+ minutes of noodling is at least somewhat listenable for a few seconds, if taken in the "cool, Hendrixy, trippy vibe" context. That, and of course the fact that Kath was one HELL of an accomplished guitar player who arguably eclipsed Hendrix himself in terms of technique. So I’d guess that next time you have to be placed in the position of listening to MMM again (God forbid), you’re best off at least warming up with Chicago’s most outlandish track. (I say "guess" because there is no way in hell I’d ever check out Lou Reed’s turd sandwich just for the sake of reference.)

  • what I find hilarious about this is that my roommate listens to shit like this (and much worse) 24/7. no joke. if you think this is bad, just be glad you’re not in a CD sending war with me, because I have heard worse.

  • I can’t wait to hear the "song" you’ve offered for download, if only for a few seconds.  I’m surprised you don’t like Lou Reed, Jason (aside from Metal Machine Music, that is).  Not even the Velvet Underground’s Loaded or his more pop-oriented songs like "Walk on the Wild Side" and "Perfect Day"?  Is it his voice?  I can see how his speaking/singing style could grate, but I’ve always liked it.

  • I agree with Jeff.  That was a priceless post! 

  • Eric P.

    I nearly had a heart attack laughing over every word, priceless blog posting.
    This should be a sitcom, it beats all  the reality tv and it’s got enough character and heart to survive beyond the pilot.

  • jhensy

    Wow, I finally get to hear MMM after YEARS of reading about it (yep, I remember all those Lester Bangs pieces in Creem). It sounds pretty much as expected.
    I remember seeing an original copy of this LP for sale in a record store in Ft. Lauderdale about 20 years ago… it was fairly beat-up, with a a big cut-out notch in the corner, but extremely rare nonetheless. I thought about buying it, but eventually balked at the $30 price tag. Always regretted that.
    Your post — and video — were hilarious, of course.

  • BD

    Jason — I had to wind up and do my own post, calling upon my misspent music-major days, old Rolling Stone reviews and Calvin and Hobbes. Sorry I’m a Blogger user who can’t do trackbacks. Enjoy.

  • That Rolling Stone review says, "In the liner notes [Reed] admits that he hasn’t listened to [the album] all the way through, and in [a recent interview] the claim that he made for Metal Machine Music was that playing it ‘would clear the room.’"  Ha!  Lou Reed’s a jolly misanthrope.  I think I mentioned on Jefitoblog that my former boss’s former record-store boss used to clear out all the closing-time stragglers by putting on Metal Machine Music.  Thanks for that RS link, BD!

  • 2fs

    And, inevitably…the tribute album: from the NYT 5/27 online edition –

    A notable full-length album tribute is due in August: Zeitkratzer’s “Lou Reed: Metal Machine Music” (Asphodel), which transcribes Mr. Reed’s worst-selling 1975 album — originally an opus of guitar feedback — for chamber ensemble, followed by Mr. Reed himself with a climactic solo. Played by a live group, “Metal Machine Music” sounds even wilder and more frenetic, and Zeitkratzer’s act of fandom — countless work-hours involved in transcribing and orchestrating — moves “Metal Machine Music” into a context where, perhaps, it always belonged: as an avant-garde piece of bristling minimalism rather than a rock musician’s bizarre experiment.

  • James G

    It makes perfect sense.  Lou Reed is going to release a live version of Metal Machine Music with German avant-garde chamber music ensemblee Zeitkratzer.  Asphodel Records is releasing the CD/DVD on September 4th.  Don’t believe me? 
    Click here for the full feedback – http://www.noblepr.co.uk/Press_Releases/lou_reed/metal_machine_music.htm


  • I warned Jeff that if he sends it to me, I’m not going to open it.

  • I wonder if anyone yelled "’Freebird’!" during that concert.

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  • Funny story. I can think of a number of albums that qualify for your game … Tiny Tim comes to mind.