Tuesday, December 06, 2011

14. Lou Reed, "Families" (1979)


In a solo career that now spans 40 years, Lou Reed has released something like 21 albums and an additional handful of collaborations, so naturally there are any number of lost highways, failed experiments, and mistrial misfires to sort through among the brilliant triumphs at this point. "Families" lives on The Bells, one of the more overlooked/undervalued among this motley, and it's an example of Reed donning his mask of naked sincerity—as believable and heartfelt as he gets, which doesn't mean he hasn't fooled me one more time (there's that thing about the family dog, for one example of overplaying his hand here). But the wretched monotony of the "how's the family?" chant, in combination with the riffing sax and handclap rhythm-keeping and I guess I have to say various circumstances in my own life too when this came along, worked together to produce a heartrending experience. There's nothing uniquely insightful about it. "Families that live out in the suburbs often make each other cry" and "I don't come home much anymore" are the lines that go through me on a reliable basis, and they're things you could say with just as much accuracy about families and people that live right in town, or out in the country, or other suburbs. But I was on strained relations with my family then—the usual crap, in my 20s, but with our mother dying to make everything that much more confusing, and me trying to "make something of my life" after years of fooling around and being essentially given up on, as it felt, plus all the alienation and loneliness to be expected. Nothing remarkable, just the normal stuff you can imagine and probably know for yourself one way or another. Still, this song provided some kind of touchstone for me, even as, like those families out in the suburbs Lou Reed is singing about, it often made me cry.

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