1. Metal Machine Music
Lou Reed died last week and one way people have been remembering him is to listen to some of his old songs. Maybe “Sunday Morning” or “Sweet Jane” or “I’ll Be Your Mirror” – all lovely in their own ways.
But I realised that I had to do something that I’ve been meaning to do for over 20 years – listen to Metal Machine Music. It’s Mr Reed’s 1975 double album that consists purely of feedback. There are no songs in the traditional sense, just squealing, droning noise. The album is either a joke (oh, how we laughed!), a middle finger raised to Reed’s restrictive record company, or the birth of noise music.
I first became aware of Metal Machine Music via Lester Bangs’ 1976 piece “The Greatest Album Ever Made”, in which he presents 17 reasons why Metal Machine Music is just that. (#4 “I once had this friend who would say, ‘I take acid at least every two months & JUST BLOW ALL THE BAD SHIT OUTA MY BRAIN!’ So I say the same thing about MMM. Except I take it about once a day, like vitamins.”) Since then the album had haunted me with the threat of its big, scary hour-long feedback fest.
It turns out I had nothing to be afraid of. Yeah, it’s an hour of feedback (presented in four parts), but a lot has happened in the decades since its release. I grew up listening to bands who, in various ways, were inspired by Metal Machine Music. For example, Sonic Youth’s 1991 song “Titanium Expose” starts with a bit of feedback which erupts into a fab alt-pop tune, before ending in a 90-second feedback solo. So if I can happily listen to that, I can handle Metal Machine Music, right?
Well, kind of. It’s still difficult. It’s still as much of a sonic assault as it was when Lester Bangs was having his many epiphanies. But it’s not a strange new world anymore. It’s like climbing Mt Everest now vs how it was for Hillary and Tenzing in the 1953 – still challenging, but the journey is a lot easier than it used to be.
Sometimes the album was just this smothering blanket of noise, other times I tuned out and started thinking about the plot twists of the third series of Homeland, and other times I would start to hear tinkling melodies amid the feedback.
Then a strange thing happened. About three-quarters of the way through, my laptop mysteriously locked up and I couldn’t stop the track playing or even see how much time was left on the track (and this has never happened before). I didn’t want to force a restart, so I just stuck it out, locked into the noise. Was I being haunted by the restless spirits of Lou Reed and/or Lester Bangs? It seemed like exactly the sort of experience that would happen in a Bangsian universe, the perfect annoying setting to listen to the perfectly annoying Metal Machine Music.
2. The Game
I’ve recently come into possession of a (slightly mouldy) first-edition copy of Neil Strauss’ 2005 book The Game: Penetrating the Secret Society of Pickup Artists. It’s bound in black faux leather, with gilt edging and a red satin bookmark and end pages, which firmly roots it in the midst of ’00s bling culture.
Knowing the current reputation of pick-up artists, I was expecting it to be awful, but it’s actually a pretty interesting book. It is, after all, from the author of one of the greatest rock books, The Dirt: Confessions of the World’s Most Notorious Rock Band.
Strauss takes us on his journey into the pick-up community and his transformation from being an awkward writer nerd to becoming the seduction master Style. But in the end it becomes clear that the techniques used by pick-up artists are most effective for casual sex or short-term relationships, at the most, and only with certain types of women, turning seduction into a computer-programme-like process. As one miserable disciple discovers, once you’re living with your girlfriend, it can be really hard to do keep up the seduction persona 24/7.
Strauss ends up living in a Hollywood mansion with fellow pick-up artists – and, wonderfully, Courtney Love for bit. But the cool mansion soon turns into messy geek flat filled with the extremely dysfunctional members of the pick-up community. Meanwhile, in the bars of Hollywood, the party girls are getting tired of all these guys coming up to them asking them exactly the same quirky opening line.
The things is, while the pick-up techniques work, but it seems that becoming a skilled pick-up artist requires becoming a huge pick-up nerd and totally dedicating one’s life to it. The Game might seem exotic and exciting because it involves lots of sex, but really, the pick-up artist community is just another group of geeks dedicating their lives to something they’re totally obsessed with.
3. Fish and chips
This is the fish and chip counter at Raglan Fish at peak takeaway time on a recent Friday. They’re down at the wharf and they do good fish and chips.