“Perfect Day” / Lou Reed
In the summer of 1973, Eurailing around the Continent with my friend Debbie, there were two songs we sang constantly: “Creeque Alley” by the Mamas and the Papas (for the line “living off American Express cards”) and Lou Reed’s “Walk On the Wild Side.” Not that our walks were ever wild – it was just that its doo doo-doo doo doo-doo-doo doo doo-doo refrain set the perfect tempo for rambling around cobblestoned European capitals. And of course it had a verse about someone named Holly (who turns out to be a transvestite, but I still identified – heck, the only other song I knew with my name in it was (yuck) “Holly Holy” by Neil Diamond).
Despite loving that snarly, transgressive Lou Reed single, I never bought the album from which it came, Transformer. Lou Reed struck me as a difficult, dangerous guy (wonder why) and . . . well, I had other bands to follow. I don’t apologize for that; there’s only so much time in life.
If I HAD bought Transformer, though, I would have known “Perfect Day” earlier, and who knows how that might've changed my mind about Lou Reed. (Lou himself hated the fact that the atypical “Walk On the Wild Side” became his signature song – kinda like “Lola” being the only Kinks song most non-fans know). “Perfect Day” shows a different side of Lou Reed, a lyrical, poetic side. The key lies in the very ordinariness of this “perfect day” he’s marveling over; it’s wonderfully affecting, especially coming from a guy who wore eye make-up and considered Andy Warhol his mentor. “Drink Sangria in the park, / And then later, when it gets dark, / We go home. . . . / Feed animals in the zoo / Then later, a movie, too, / And then home.” Simple pleasures we can all relate to, and his gruff, half-talking, slightly wobbly voice makes it even more convincingly ordinary. As the song transpires, of course, the melancholy edge becomes clear: “You made me forget myself. / I thought I was someone else, / Someone good.” That’s the heart-breaker, the part that makes me want to put my arms around Lou Reed, leather jacket and all, and just console him.
David Bowie produced this album and Mick Ronson was somehow involved too; I’ve read that it was Ronson who gave this number its lush waltzing arrangement, with a chorus of strings swelling over the simple piano accompaniment. This walking-in-the-park conceit is tired now, after a bazillion hackneyed film montages, but in 1972 it was still code for escaping the rat race and being authentic; it was effective in Woody Allen movies and even more effective when a downtown guy like Lou Reed takes it up. For this one moment, he’s let go of all his defiance, all his desire to shock. He’s content just to BE.
I saw Lou Reed once, years ago, waiting for the subway at the Christopher Street station down in Greenwich Village -- brooding, rumpled, leonine, devastatingly attractive. Dressed in black leather, of course, but still, riding the subway, like a million other ordinary New Yorkers. I’m hoping that was a perfect day for him. It was for me.
Perfect Day sample