This post is obvious, I'd be surprised if it hasn't been done already. Four songs: two chords each - Peter Laughner throws in a descending minor chord progression, but only to return to the stark two chord template laid out in Lou Reed's "Heroin." All of these songs follow that model and are indebted to the original as well as it's precursor. "Heroin" becomes "Amphetamine," which was coincidentally the drug of choice for both of these songwriters. Unfortunately, speed kills. Peter Laughner died at 24. He worshipped Lou Reed - as did his pal and running buddy Lester Bangs who followed him to the grave a few years later and whose best piece of writing may be his obituary for Laughner. Jeff Tweedy quotes "Amphetamine" directly in "Misunderstood," the cacophonous opener to Wilco's Being There.
Take the guitar player for a ride
'cause he ain't never been satisfied
He thinks he owes some kind of debt
Be years before he gets over it
Musically, it tips it's hat to "Heroin." It's not as sublime or shocking as John Cale's droning, and then screeching viola, or Mo Tucker's mathematical, cymballess drumming, but it was 1996 not 1966, and these things were already appropriated countless times and taken for granted in indie rock. It was a departure for Wilco, and alienated some of their fans, who were holding onto some weird and bogus ideal of alternative country purity. The Laughner reference is an inspired one. Josh Ritter's "Thin Blue Flame" is an apocalyptic vision of American society at war and turmoil. A lot of wordy images and the same two chords played on the guitar and then the piano and like on "Misunderstood," building to a noisy crescendo. It's the most sober of all these selections, but again there's a reference to illicit substances.
Bringing justice to the enemies not the other way round
They’re guilty when killed and they’re killed where they’re found
If what’s loosed on earth will be loosed up on high
It’s a Hell of a Heaven we must go to when we die
Where even Laurel begs Hardy for vengeance please
The fat man is crying on his hands and his knees
Back in the peacetime he caught roses on the stage
Now he twists indecision takes bourbon for rage
Lead pellets peppering aluminum
Halcyon, laudanum and Opium
This record knocked me out when I first heard it.
Actually, all of these records did and still do.
by The Velvet Underground, 1967.
available on The Velvet Underground & Nico
by Peter Laughner, 1975.
available on Take the Guitar Player for a Ride
out of print
by Wilco, 1996.
available on Being There
"Thin Blue Flame" mp3
by Josh Ritter, 2006.
available on Animal Years
Buy: Psychotic Reactions and Carburetor Dung by Lester Bangs
top photo: © Ted Barron
This blog does not endorse drug abuse.