The magnificent and difficult Lou Reed died in October of 2013. I was enough of a fan that I had to take a little time to grieve him, but not enough of a fan that I’d been listening to his records regularly at that time. We’d played the occasional Velvet Underground track on my radio show in the few years previous to his death but his solo work had been out of my personal rotation for a long, long time.
At the time, I believed that I idolized David Bowie — his charm, his eccentricities, his beauty, his style and grace — and that Lou Reed was a laughable junkie poseur, dismissed by Burroughs as a tourist and never quite as interesting as he thought he was.
Reed’s death, however, unearthed the memories I had of listening to Transformer in high school, reveling in the junkie cynicism that turned the Bowie-produced glam-pop album into something more challenging, more honest, and more hateful than Ziggy Stardust or T. Rex could manage at the time.
I started to compulsively listen to Transformer again, cutting in a variety of other Reed work (even chunks of Metal Machine Music), and I felt myself recognizing my (perhaps unwelcome) affinity to Reed as an artist and as a person. I was not capable of the ethereal, sexy, compelling artifice of Bowie — I was stuck with the sharp, sour, and sometimes self-sabotaging inability to be anyone but myself.
As I remembered high school, I also remembered mix tapes, and I had an idea that was so luxuriously unnecessary I had to start it immediately.
I would sequence a set of eleven mixes, each built around the sound and themes of a song on Transformer. Each mix would contain eleven songs, and the instigating Lou Reed song would take the same slot in the mix as it does on Transformer. I had rules for the mixes: 1) I wouldn’t repeat any artist besides Lou Reed; 2) each mix would work as a loop, i.e. its last song would be an appropriate lead-in for the first song; and 3) the last song of each mix would flow into the first song of the next mix, i.e. the first song in the “Andy’s Chest” mix would be an aesthetically appropriate follow-up to the last song in the “Vicious” mix.
If I put all these together, it would make a 121-song mix, in which you could find the eleven tracks from Transformer in order. I called the project TRANSFORMATIONS, and I thought of it as the record Transformer, interpolated. I was finding what Transformer meant to me, what stories were hid in the songs, what feelings it aroused, and what tones and moods I heard in the arrangements.
I’ll post them all on this site, one at a time, and link to each here as I go.
Transformer Track Listing: