10.7.13

Every Song I Love: "Cool It Down" by the Velvet Underground



WORDS BY LIZ/FOREHEAD ART BY JEN

I heard "Cool It Down" by the Velvet Underground for the first time on a Friday afternoon in the spring, standing at a sink in a bathroom in a restaurant, wearing blue eyeshadow, excited about a guy. The restaurant has marble tables and sells artisanal marshmallows and elaborately frosted moon pies, the eyeshadow's called Painkiller and sparkles in the sun. I took some pictures of my eyelids and listened to the song, which felt perfectly matched to my makeup and my mood: it was jubilant, which is a weird word and slightly embarrassing to type or say out loud. But I can't stop myself from thinking that word when I think of "Cool It Down" - it's just very much jubilant song, at least in the context of the Velvet Underground:



Now it's a few months later and I've listened to "Cool It Down" at least a few hundred times, but it still sounds so new to me. Here are some of the things I love most about it:

-how the vocals kick in right in the first second: no time to waste for old Lou! And I love how the vocals are layered or "overdubbed," or whatever the hell that's called. It's like Lou's singing with himself, which I think is sort of sweet of him. This is the first time it's ever occurred to me that Lou Reed might be described as "sweet."

-the line about Lou looking for Miss Linda Lee. "Miss Linda Lee" is a cool rock name; I picture her in hot white boots and wild eyes and a beautiful bouffant. I have no idea what Miss Linda Lee looks like to Lou, and I really don't care. "What Lou Reed looks for in a woman" is of little to no interest to me.

-the part when Lou spells the word love. He sings it like love is spelled "W-L-O-V-E," which is confusing and fun and kind of fucks with the whole Sesame Street vibe of using song lyrics for spelling practice. (Not that I'm not 110 percent into that whole Sesame Street vibe - I  wish more songs reminded me of Sesame Street. Songs with counting are so killer, too; I'd be very into more songs with a "Ladybugs' Picnic" kind of feel.)

-the part when Lou sings "Somebody's got the time-time," at the start of the second verse. Lou loves saying "time-time": he says it in "Sister Ray" too, and it's somehow both tough and whimsical. The complete lyrics to that part go:

Somebody's got the time-time
Somebody's got the right
All of the other people
Trying to use up the night

- and right now those are my favorite lyrics in the whole song/world. They make me think of this great point that Molly Lambert made about the Mad Men episode where Sally visits boarding school and that awful Rolo tries to put the moves on her. Molly wrote:

Sally should trust her own feelings, even if it means not fitting in with the teens all around her, who are so eager to have tried everything. She doesn't want new experiences just to have had them. She wants them to mean something too.

I felt really understood, reading those sentences, and I feel really understood when Lou Reed is judgy about the night-user-uppers. Being careless and thoughtless about what you do with your nights probably just kills your soul. I want romance and adventure for Sally Draper, and everyone else who's cool and into shit being meaningful, and I guess that includes Lou Reed.

I mean, say what you will about Lou Reed, but the dude's definitely way into "meaning."


***

My number-one thing about "Cool It Down" is how the song itself is a command. Lou Reed's telling me to cool it down, and I absolutely want to do what he says. I don't love Lou Reed and it's possible I never will, but somehow I feel totally okay with having Lou Reed being in charge of me, for the three minutes and six seconds it takes to get through this song. Within the universe of "Cool It Down," I wholly and passionately trust Lou Reed.

My earliest impressions of Lou Reed are tied to "Walk on the Wild Side," which I heard on the radio at least once in the mustard-yellow/dirt-brown Dodge Dart my dad drove when I was little. "Walk on the Wild Side" is a solid Lou Reed introduction for a kid: it's all storytelling, and the girl-group backup vocals are catchy and glamorous. "But she never lost her head, even when she was giving head" is a good lyric to memorize when you're very young and then you grow up and hear it again and think, "Oh! Oh...I knew what Lou Reed looked like from his Rock Against Drugs PSA: he seemed a little creepy and cold, but I figured that's just what rock stars were like sometimes and you just had to accept it. The Dodge Dart's probably been dead 25 years but in some ways Lou Reed is the same as that car for me: nasty, temperamental, weirdly cool for reasons I couldn't yet completely understand. 

And then I got a little older and started loving music on my own and eventually bought some Velvet Underground records; I think the first was The Velvet Underground & Nico, when I was 18 or 19. I love so many songs by the Velvet Underground but I've always held something against them - mostly because I tend to associate them with rock-critic-type dudes who give me a hard time about loving bands they find to be deeply uncool. But that's unfair of me, and ultimately just as lame as what I'm rebelling against. It's not the Velvet Underground's fault that some people are insecure/fascists, so let's not get music mixed up with all the trash that people talk when it doesn't occur to them that they might have better things to say. That's just dirty, and even sort of rude. It's good and important to have respect for people who make beautiful songs.

***

When I started writing this post I texted my friend Tim, telling him to share all his "Cool It Down" feelings with me. He said a bunch of smart stuff but what hit me most was something about how the song starts off with a string of tiny disappointments ("Somebody took the papers/And somebody's got the key/And somebody nailed the door shut/That says hey what you think that you see"), but almost immediately there's a sense of something good coming right around the bend.

The first time I heard "Cool It Down," in the restaurant bathroom with my blue eyelids, it intensified the crazy-hopeful feeling that was happening that day - but it also tempered it, in a way that had nothing to do with the dampening of enthusiasm. I felt all fizzy and electric, but also calm and easy and free of anxiety about not getting what I wanted. Moments like that are rare (for me at least) when something superlatively cool feels very close to coming true. Generally I'm at a loss when it comes to alleviating boy anxiety, but this time Lou Reed just dissolved it for me, and I didn't even notice it was happening. It happened because I was taken over by the song, and it wasn't a song I'd chosen for myself. It was some creepy, nasty Lou Reed magic. So I guess maybe I do finally love Lou Reed. Gross.

The whole deal with the guy didn't work out, which was both hugely disappointing and completely okay. One thing I admire about my new boyfriend Lou Reed is that lazy awareness of how good things and bad things get mixed up together, and how there's really not much you can ever do about that. The world is indifferent to your shit, and Lou Reed seems like he accepts that indifference and probably even expects it. In "Cool It Down" he sings "You know it makes no difference to me" and sounds really pleased about not giving a fuck. He's saying "Get over yourself" but he doesn't actually have to say it - the "Get over yourself" is implied, just in his tone. But of course Lou Reed is never going to get over Lou Reed. And of course that's so much of why we need Lou Reed to exist.

***

On Fourth of July I went to a party in a backyard and sat on a blanket in the grass with a little dog named Vern (the dog up top in this picture here) and painted my nails gold, and then went to different party and ate strawberry cake out of a red Solo cup and drank champagne out of another red Solo cup, and watched the fireworks with my friends from the top of a big hill. I don't think I listened to "Cool It Down" at any point, but the day still had "Cool It Down" vibes: it was fizzy and electric and easy and free, jubilant in the chillest way possible.


So, congratulations, Lou Reed: you are now a bottle of gold Wet & Wild nail polish and a blanket and a cup of pink cake. Welcome to my goofy world; there is nothing you can do about it. We are all in charge of Lou Reed, in own weird way. Sweet Lou Reed just loves us so much.

6 comments:

  1. I love this very, very much.

    Last month I was at a microbrew pub in Mundelein, Illinois with my extended family from Illinois and Texas and my mom and my sister and at one point the establishment was playing "Take a Walk on the Wild Side" and I txted my main man, who was in Saskatoon at the time, that we were going to listen to all of the Lou Reed in the world this summer when we got home. We haven't yet, but I am recommitted to doing so after reading this essay.

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    1. do it! and thank you! xoxo

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  2. ladybug picnic was my favorite thing growing up.

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  3. This song is about Lou Reed sleeping with a prostitute (Linda Lee). The chorus is sung from the prostitute's perspective.

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  5. I have recently recovered from a few hectic years and I am re-visiting my passion for Lou Reed. Aside from the obvious reference made by the above post, this song is a pillar for many and can be associated to any person's memory. Love your post, just what i needed to read right now.

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