What's so great about death? Good question and I'm glad you've brought it up because I think death gets a lot of stick from the tabloids, online forums and shouty panel shows. "Death Killed Diana" is pretty much the only headline of every newspaper printed every single day since August 1995. Death is always seen as a negative. No one ever considers the health benefits of death. No more having to drag your wobbly body into a job that's forcing depression down your throat, no more having to push your emotions deep down within you and pretending that you're still happy to be in the same relationship with that insane stranger for over 20 years, no more headache inducing insomnia brought on by a bad back and a drawer full of bills bitching about what a loser you are. That all goes when you win the death lottery.
In some cultures funerals are celebratory. In respect to the deceased, family and friends gather together wearing brightly coloured clothes and sing and dance and generally rejoice at how happy they are that someone they love doesn't have to do THIS anymore. What a profound and selfless way to consider someone's life. But other cultures...the shit one I've got...selfishly pick the rainiest day of the century to clump together round a hole, throw you in it and then they burst into jealous tears and damn God for not picking them instead. The whole day out is an insult. "He's never looked better", they spit while you lie in a box decaying. Charming! "One minute he was sitting alone surrounded by everyone he knew, the next he was dead. Well, it's what he would have wanted". Translation: "It's what I wanted, the jammy bastard".
So, death is a way out but for the rest of us waiting it's a time to take stock. We think about the person we've lost and we bury their bad points and treasure their good. They remain loved and perfect. Almost the same happens when a celebrity dies. We watch their best film or listen to their best song or read their best blog (If I die before you finish reading this, stop and read "Hangoverwatch" and tweet about how amazing I was. That's right, I am a celebrity). That icon will forever be untarnished because they won't ever make another crap thing and we will choose to forgive and forget their duffness of the past. When Lou Reed died a few days ago, the internet stuck videos of "Walk On The Wild Side" and "Perfect Day" all over itself. Songs I'd heard before, if I'm honest. That's fine, of course, but hardly inspiring. It didn't make me think that I'd somehow completely overlooked this obscure genius and I had to check him out. It just made me sad that Lou Reed was dead.
But today I dug out my copy of The Velvet Underground's least loved album, Live MCMXCIII. Easily my favourite of their records (I know no one will share that opinion) even though I probably haven't heard it since MCMXCV.
It's the band reuniting after 27 years and it's utterly dignified. They sound dark and cool with just their dirty, shameful music as a stageshow. No explosions or fireworks, 4 people with the cold sound of their filth. You can feel the space needed between Lou Reed and John Cale in every song, no arena is big enough for both of them, and all ice is melted by Moe Tucker being the greatest thing in this or any band and daring to be adorable. Like having Rolf the Dog playing school piano in Nine Inch Nails.
The thing is, I listened to Live MCMXCIII in a really bizarre way. I put it on and listened to it and then didn't stop listening until it had finished. I listened to an album. An actual album. Has this been done this century?
It has because I did it just a few weeks ago. I decided I would get rid of a lot of my CD's because I never listen to them. I now have 400 unloved albums piled up in my living room waiting to be...well, I dunno. Nicked? There was an Eels album right at the top of the pile. That is definitely where that Eels album deserved to be because I bought it on it's week of release in September 2001 and I listened to it once. That was the worst thing that happened in September 2001, I know that now.
I took it off the pile, thought "fuck it" and gave it a spin. It's brilliant! A secret brilliant album that had just been sitting there waiting patiently for me to discover it. No one in Eels even had to die. The album is Souljacker and it sounds nasty and ragged and so sweet. Muddy garage songs about how lovely that one girl is and static-interrupted distress calls about circus freaks. How could anyone not listen to that from beginning to end? Albums. WHOLE ALBUMS. An hour-ish of music created by one unit over one period of time and presented as a beginning, middle and end. You know how you listen to a podcast featuring a comedian talking about himself that lasts your whole journey to work? Well, I'm just saying that you COULD listen to...I dunno...Licensed To Ill by the Beastie Boys. Not "Fight For Your Right", I mean the WHOLE ALBUM. Like they wanted you to. When was the last time you listened to Licensed To Ill? No sleep until you have!
Music is treated so badly now. Amazing pieces of work being ripped to bits and chunks lifted and stuck on playlists leaving the other 56 minutes of an album gathering iDust. That's if the full album was ever bought in the first place. I mean, I do it too. I make playlists all the time and that's why I've heard Catch by The Cure hundreds of times and Kiss Me Kiss Me Kiss Me barely gets the respect it's overdue.
But, although I think I'm brilliant at compiling an playlist, I'm terrible at it. There's just something about listening to those songs in the order that it's inventor tirelessly stitched them together in that IS the listening experience. It all comes together because those songs should be together. Something brilliant used to happen to me that barely does anymore: when one song ends on an album that you love, you hear the very beginning of the next song in your head a second before it actually starts. It's small but the feeling it gives is huge.
I have other Lou Reed albums. Transformer and Berlin are albums that I know really well but I'm glad I had my moment of tribute to the great man with Live MCMXCIII. I'm glad I've found it again. Just like I love the comfort and familiarity of music I know well (Script For a Jester's Tear, Strangeways Here We Come, Klassics With a K by Kostars (it's one of the best. If you're going to discover an obscure album because of reading this blog then rush to that one)), I love the where-has-that-been-all-my-life feeling of an entire album I had no idea about. It seems obvious and maybe I'm preaching to the choir but recommending albums and sharing music in a time when bands are being treated worse than ever just seems like a pretty decent thing to do. To the artists and yourself. If you can, buy an album you don't know and listen to the whole thing. Maybe check one out by someone who is still alive, listen to it loads, then when they die you'll have something to recommend to everyone else. Or you could recommend one now. There's been a few great albums this year: Jim Bob (obviously), Primal Scream, Silent Sleep, my very own soundtrack to the film Good Vibrations (although that's a compilation and might clash with everything I've just said). David Bowie's one is good too and he's bound to die soon so hurry up and give it a listen. All the way through. From start to finish.
"All through this I've always thought that if you thought of all of it as a book then you have the Great American Novel, every record is a chapter. They're all in chronological order. You take the whole thing, stack it and listen to it in order, there's my Great American Novel" - Lou Reed.
Feel free to recommend an album in the comments section below. Thanks!