“The Blue Mask” begins with an ending.
At first you hear Robert Quine’s guitar screaming like the thing that scares a banshee, then Lou’s guitar shouting back in the other speaker, while drummer Doane Perry keeps trying to crash the song to an ending before it even begins, as if to say “you really aren’t prepared for this, so here’s your chance to leave.”
But Fernando Saunders is having none of that wimpy-ass bullshit, and so he plays a straightforward, strangled boogieish bassline — forsaking his usual magic for sheer power — and Lou says “aha!” and riffs right along with it, and “The Blue Mask” is off, and what’s underneath it is revealed.
And it ain’t pretty, as Lou Reed primally screams a howl of sheer pain.
They tied his arms behind his back
To teach him how to swim
They put blood in his coffee
And milk in his gin
Meanwhile, Robert Quine is sending long, arcing skyrockets swirling around the vortex as they rip into the chorus.
Make the sacrifice
Mutilate my face
If you need someone to kill
I’m a man without a will
Wash the razor in the rain
Let me luxuriate in pain
Please don’t set me free
Death means a lot to me
Cazart! And yet, for all of the noise and squalor and pain, “The Blue Mask” is eerily beautiful is its sheer and utter desperation. Lou Reed made his entire career about how much cooler he was than you. Or me. Or anybody else. But “The Blue Mask” reminds us that his cool was a way to cope with a mind that could conjure a song as unhinged as “The Blue Mask”
The pain was lean and it made him scream
He knew he was alive
He put a pin through the nipples on his chest
He thought he was a saint
I’ve made love to my mother,
Killed my father and brother
What am I to do
When a sin goes too far, it’s like a runaway car
It cannot be controlled
And speaking of unhinged, at the end, Lou uncorks a guitar solo that’s nearly the equal of his freakouts on “European Son” or “I Heard Her Call My Name,” but not nearly as long or organized as those solos were. By this time the rest of the band has decided that the only way out is to speed up until the song ends up crashing into a wall, so that’s what they do.
I was barely 19 when The Blue Mask came out. I’d heard the Velvets, of course, but I hadn’t fully assimilated them yet. And besides, there is always that slight disconnection when getting into older music. But The Blue Mask was fresh, it was now, and it was utterly mind-blowing.
Before it, Lou Reed was the guy who was in the Velvet Underground, had the fluke “Walk on The Wild Side” song and that live “Sweet Jane” always being played on the radio. After it, he was a guy who I was going to follow for the rest of my life.
“The Blue Mask”
“The Blue Mask” performed live in 2000
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