I think I saw Lou Reed for the first time when he was a guest on the David Letterman show. It was a long, long time ago, before Dave jumped ship to CBS. Lou Reed had already aged quite a bit by then. Not that I knew anything about him and his past at that time, aside from the fact that he was a singer. Seeing him, he seemed kind of like an intimidating uncle who didn’t talk a lot who always voted Republican and was really into hunting.
Well, little did I know that Lou was one of the pioneers of glam rock as the lead singer of The Velvet Underground, a pre-David Bowie David Bowie in a world of drugs, sex, music, drugs, art (courtesy of Andy Warhol who managed the band), androgyny, and more sex and more drugs. So much for the Republicanism and hunting theory (D’oh!).
After going solo in the early 70’s, he gave a glimpse into that world with “Walk on the Wild Side.” Who did Lou hang out with on the weekends? Holly the drag queen, Candy yet another drag queen who performed oral services in restrooms, popular hustler Little Joe (apparently, he wasn’t so little), Sugar Plum Fairy who go-go danced like a maniac, and Jackie, the ill-fated speed addict. It’s not exactly the Brady Bunch, and Lou doesn’t help matters when he keeps using the term “colored girls.”
In the end, the song is all about Lou saying, “Hey, this was my life,” nothing more, nothing less. He’s not looking for approval, he’s not asking you to join in (although his disdain for the listener ironically draws you in further); he’s just telling it like it was. Add to that a simple but addictively catchy melody, and you’ve got the musical equivalent of pop art brilliance. “But she never lost her head, even when she was givin’ head.” That’s just genius.