Turning time around

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Ecstasy is, from its trash-can-blues beginning to its elegant ending, a remarkable record full of horrific images ("They had tied someone up and sewn up their eyes / And he got so excited he came on his thighs") and heartrending sentiment ("You sleep in the bedroom / While I pace up and down the hall / Our baby stares at both of us / Wondering which one of us to call"). It's a love letter from son of a bitch, a bedside note from a cheater to his faithful wife. On the album, Reed plays all sorts of characters--lover, liar, slave, master, but always the emotional idiot--as he grapples once more with the complexities of love only to discover it destroys more than it creates. That he's in a relationship with a public figure and an artistic equal--Laurie Anderson, who contributes electronic violin on two songs, "Rock Minuet" and "Rouge"--only allows for even more interpretation. Either they're the happiest couple alive, or they spend every other night beating the shit out of each other.

Like Set the Twilight Reeling, on which Reed portrayed himself as "the star newly emerging" at the album's conclusion, Ecstasy also ends on one of Reed's dour but somehow optimistic notes: "Big sky holding down the sea," he groans, "but it can't hold us down anymore." But it's not the disc's highlight. That title belongs to "Like a Possum," a "guitar symphony" (as Reed likes to call it) that begins where other songs end--at the violent climax, the cathartic explosion. After more than 30 years as a public performer, the old man is born again in this beautiful chaos, in white noise that draws you in and wears you out. And it's the perfect song for Lou Reed to perform now. Like him, it never quite begins and never quite ends. It just exists, almost forever.

"With 'Like a Possum,' I wanted the listener to have a different view of time," Reed says. "Like, this song goes on for 18 minutes, so it's a rare instance in today's music where you can sit back or whatever and give up to the music and just let it take you away. It's not going to end in two minutes, three minutes. You can just go with it. And it's a different way of looking at time, I thought. The song's tempo is not slow, but because the song is longer, there's a sweep to it you don't normally get, and you can experience it on a CD. It blows my mind. It really does. I just can't believe it."

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Robert Wilonsky
Contact: Robert Wilonsky