It sounds too good to be true, but the first Lou Reed song I remember hearing was “Rock and Roll.” I was older than Jenny but like her I turned on a New York station (WNEW, which I could pick up only after 9 pm in the basement of our house in upstate New York) and though I can’t say my own life was saved by rock and roll the song did intrigue me, especially the way it’s going along so gentle and confiding and then erupts into the menacing coda (listening now, the coda seems less menacing than it did to me back then).
Which is the dynamic of so many Lou Reed songs and albums. Like a David Lynch character, he seems at first friendly, gentle, confiding, and then suddenly he turns dark, sometimes psychopathic, leaving you feeling unmoored, in danger, a click away from violence. From all reports, he was sort of like that in real life, too.
I was a fan, but a random one. I found the first solo album and “Coney Island Baby” on 8-track in the cut-out bin at Jamesway, our local department store, and though they had their moments (“Love Makes You Feel” from the solo album and the title cut of “Coney Island”) they didn’t get me passionate. A few years later “Street Hassle” became a latenight favorite on WPDH, our local FM station, and that eventually inspired me enough to buy the “Rock and Roll Diary” compiliation, where I finally made the acquaintance of all those great “Transformer” songs and realized what all the rock-critic talk was about. In college I taped “Growing Up in Public” from a friend (Marianne Faithful’s “Broken English” was on the other side) and received “The Blue Mask” as a birthday present…great guitars but not very enjoyable, I ended up not playing it much. In graduate school I was housesitting for some friends and found “Berlin” in their record collection and listened to it every night for two weeks while I watered their plants and fed their cat. A few years after that another friend’s record club was running a close-out on box sets and I got the Velvet Underground’s “Peel Slowly and See,” amazing song after amazing song, especially “I’ll Be Your Mirror.” I liked the songs from “New York” I heard on the radio enough to get tickets to Lou’s show at the Orpheum in Boston, with the Smithereens opening. He played the album in its entirety in sequence, which amounted to a lot of words, but then finished up with a transcendent “Sweet Jane.” I lost track of him after that, but just this week heard the song “Modern Dance” from one of the later albums for the first time and thought it was great. Maybe someday I’ll stumble over a copy of “The Raven” and fall in love with it.
Anyway, for the fans, “Satellite of Love.” A guy is sitting on a ratty couch in a city apartment. He’s alone. There’s a water glass of Scotch in his hands, the pills he took a half hour ago are kicking in. The TV is on too loud. He’s obsessing about his girlfriend (boyfriend?), who he just found out is cheating on him, not for the first time. But he still loves her…no, not “loves,” “loves” is wrong word, “cares about” or “is used to” or who the fuck knows. On TV they’re showing a news story about a satellite orbiting the moon. That’s it, he thinks, that’s what I’m doing…I’m orbiting her. I’m caught up and can’t pull myself away. We all are, we’re all satellites of love. He laughs briefly at his grim joke (the song’s chorus speeds up from the woozy, inebriated verses), takes another mouthful of Scotch. Changes the channel, looking for another distraction.
(This interpretation makes more sense if you hear the original demo of the song, which substitutes “I’ll take it for a little while” for the official version’s “I watched it for a little while.” Maybe Lou changed his mind about what he wanted the song to be about, or forgot. I doubt he would have admitted to either.)