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A Songwriter’s Appreciation: Lou Reed’s "Dirty Blvd." Part II

03/17/2014 10:41 PM | Steve Coffee

(In Part I, songwriter Jon Carroll introduced his analysis of Lou Reed's "Dirty Blvd.")



Now with some notes, just for fun:

(And it need not be said that these thoughts, interpretations and suppositions are this writers alone. Its perilous to analyze songwriting. Most writer dont enjoy doing it to their own work, and I apologize if the reader is repelled by this overstep. On the other hand, step offits just a song, a really good song.



Dirty Blvd.

(Lou Reed)

Pedro lives out of the Wilshire Hotel

He looks out a window without glass

(The stage is economically set within 5 seconds with these first two lines.Taken literally: abject poverty. Figuratively, it might suggest there is no lens or protective layer of shelter between outside and in: One reality. Pedro doesnt live IN the Wilshire (will share?) Hotel, he lives out of it.

The walls are made of cardboard, newspapers on his feet

His father beats him 'cause he's too tired to beg

(Further establishing the environment as deprived, abusive, flimsy to the point of ephemera)

He's got 9 brothers and sisters--they're brought up on their knees

It's hard to run when a coat hanger beats you on the thighs

(The begging is reiterated as we learn there are many others there, and they are brought up on their knees, raised to believe that they are lower and worth less than most)

Pedro dreams of being older and killing the old man

but that's a slim chance he's going to the boulevard

(Back to Pedro, he dreams. To wit, his pathetic visionary aspiration is to one day murder his parent. And our credibly world-wise narrator dryly and jarringly dashes even that demented hope as futile, pointing out that Plan A is sadly:

He's going to end up, on the dirty boulevard

He's going out, to the dirty boulevard

He's going down, to the dirty boulevard

(The signifiers here are quick and potent: end up, going out, going down)

This room cost 2,000 dollars a month, you can believe it man, it's true

Somewhere a landlord's laughing till he wets his pants

(Reed introduces what will be a recurring device here and elsewhere throughout the album, using defecation as a handy expression of a total lack of dignity and respect.)

No one here dreams of being a doctor or a lawyer or anything

They dream of dealing on the dirty boulevard

(Here again is the insistent mention of dreams, a term for aspirations, but now they lead irrevocably back to the dirty boulevard, perhaps as Robert Frosts After Apple Picking refers to the hauntingly perseverating images which cannot be dispelled by an exhausted laborer at the end of a long day)

Give me your hungry, your tired your poor I'll piss on 'em

That's what the Statue of Bigotry says

Your poor huddled masses, let's club 'em to death

and get it over with and just dump 'em on the boulevard

(Boldly animating--then desecratingundefinedthe Lady in the Harbor, taking four lines to further dehumanize the immigrants to so much rodential detritus thereby conflating to national policy the landlord laughing while he wets)

Get em out, on the dirty boulevard

Going out, to the dirty boulevard

He's going down, on the dirty boulevard

Going out

(Now we are introduced to the third act which offers some specificity to the job descriptions on the boulevard. Going out is a streetwalkers standard pitch, while going down is often at offer)

Outside it's a bright night, there's an opera at Lincoln Center

Movie stars arrive by limousine

(We stay out, outside Pedros world, and the privileged and well-heeled are antithetically busy in theirs. Their night is bright, although Lou slyly and seductively reforms the word limousine into the name of a drug like mescaline or Dexedrine. Just as this listener is thinking this, the following lines affirm the theme):

The klieg lights shoot up over the skyline of Manhattan

But the lights are out on the mean streets

(No explanation required.)

A small kid stands by the Lincoln Tunnel

He's selling plastic roses for a buck

(I discovered that The Robert Frost poem alludes to “stem end and blossom end” as well as other salient images and themes that correspond not too remotely.)

The traffic's backed up to 39th street

The TV Whores are calling the Cops out for a Suck

(A vivid scene,with metaphors for those who are looking. Economical phrasing right down to numbers and acronyms.)

And back at the Wilshire, Pedro sits there dreaming

He's found a book on Magic in a garbage can

He looks at the pictures and stares at the cracked ceiling

"At the count of 3" he says, "I hope I can disappear"

(The cracked ceiling: figurative, literal with multiplied metaphoric weight and now, after all, Pedros dream and hope, is to disappear)

And fly fly away, from this dirty boulevard

I want to fly, from dirty boulevard

I want to fly, from the dirty boulevard

I want to fly, fly, fly, fly, from the dirty boulevard

I want to fly away

I want to fly

(The Doo-Wop style backsing remember the doot da doot in Walk On The Wild Side--function as Greek Chorus and Uriah Heep, ushering the listener, and Pedro to whatever comes next. Another voice (a grown man) assumes Pedros persona with the vociferous desire: I wanna fly)

This song is a wonderful example of how a simple, thoughtfully considered lyric can achieve amazing and transporting results.

ManyThanks, Lou.


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