Street Hassle

Back in the day (the late 80s day specifically) getting into Lou Reed’s solo career was a dangerous game. Transformer was the obvious place to start and set a standard which was difficult to follow. From there it was a New York lucky dip. Rock ‘n’ Roll Animal is still one of the worst albums I have ever heard and you’ll never convince me it has any merits. Berlin is distressing. Coney Island Baby is a joke. Without the internet there was no way to try before you bought. A lot of his albums were available on the Mid-Price range which made them cheap and tempting and there were always fellow travellers willing to give advice along the lines of ‘yeah, that one’s shit but you should try The Blue Mask/Mistrial/New Sensations’.

The scene in Trainspotting where Sick Boy explains his theory about life, having it and then losing, is spot on. Renton replies to Sick Boy’s theory that some of Lou Reed’s solo stuff is ‘no bad’. Sick Boy counters that although it’s alright it’s not great either which means that ‘actually it’s just shite’.

Let’s make an exception for one eleven minute long song he put out in 1978, a three part tone poem that explores the underbelly of New York with prostitutes, drug dealers, the death of a woman and an uncredited spoken word section from Bruce Springsteen. It’s been suggested that Street Hassle is also a response to the end of Lou’s relationship with Rachel, a trans woman he had been seeing for three years. Street Hassle is a remarkable, moving piece of music with the same riff being played first on cello, guitar and bass. Reed’s ambition for the song was that it was something that could have been written by Tennessee Williams, Raymond Chandler or William Burroughs set to music and I think he pulled it off. In typical Lou Reed fashion it is followed by I Wanna Be Black, a bemusing song which has nothing going for it at all and then a re-recorded Velvet Underground song. But in a solo career that up to his resurgence in the 1990s is wildly erratic, Street Hassle (the song) is a major achievement and a truly great song. I don’t have an mp3 of it and my vinyl is in poor condition so can only provide you with the Youtube version.