“Heroin”

Rio Grande at Pilar, NM

Rio Grande at Pilar, NM with geese and ducks, looking downstream

One of my favorite early Lou Reed songs, written in 1964. I’ve always identified with this verse, for some reason. More and more, it seems, not less.

I wish that I was born a thousand years ago
I wish that I’d sail the darkened seas
On a great big clipper ship
Going from this land here to that
In a sailor’s suit and cap
Away from the big city
Where a man can not be free
Of all of the evils of this town
And of himself, and those around
Oh, and I guess that I just don’t know
Oh, and I guess that I just don’t know

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  • Ken Webb March 5, 2013, 4:16 AM

    This is a very strong theme – perhaps the essential theme – of the American Romantic imagination: escape from the chains of daily life, especially as found in cities and small towns. By going to sea, going to the territories, to the wilderness. The turn at the end is interesting in its self-reflectiveness, emphasizing what was implicit all along – that this was all a phantasy and not a real project, therefore terminally unsatisfactory even to the singer himself….

    Lovely as it is, the song makes me shiver and also somewhat indignant. Why is the singer giving in to this helplessness and vacillation? If he doesn’t really have a plan to be a sailor, what’s the point? And what is it other than some cute images about the dress of a sailor and a way of life long gone that’s so appealing? Maybe he should go and write a song, a beautiful one. Hey, he just did that, so that ain’t helplessness. Couldn’t he have got some of the exhilaration he must have felt in doing the writing into the spirit of the song?

    –These objections are beside the point, I suppose. Romantic longing never answers such questions, it just longs without hope, without a specific project, with no delivery from its self-made chains. Makes me shiver, makes me indignant, makes me feel like I felt most of the time in my twenties.

    • JHF March 5, 2013, 8:59 AM

      That’s only one verse from the middle of a very long song. The reason I posted this verse would be obvious, I’d think, but you do need the cultural reference—and the sound

      • Ken Webb March 5, 2013, 10:47 AM

        The song’s a good song, but I like to interrogate things, as you know. It’s easy for me to see the echoes in your own writings, and perhaps some of the events in your biography. As for the culture references, well, I guess the title of the song tells us a good deal about that. I’m never content to let words spoken or sung or written lie in that state of passive reference to other things. There’s a world-view in that stanza, and there’s a reason why you chose it of all the stanzas you might have chosen. It must be because of what was being said. Those things are interesting to me.

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