Play The Hits? They’re Artists, Not Jukeboxes

Sunburned and dazed, the hordes returning from Glastonbury recently were keen to report that, yes, this year’s festival actually had been the best in recent memory. Orbital unveiled their newest member Dr Who, Radiohead played a secret gig and the Flaming Lips found a portal to a new psychedelic universe of glitter.

But some people were heard to be complaining about what they felt to be a slightly underwhelming Gorillaz set.

Wait a second… was this the same show that we saw featuring Paul Simonon and Mick Jones of The Clash reunited on Stage, Mark E. Smith, the greatest living Englishman barking like a dog, the superbad Bobby Womack, Shaun Ryder of the Happy Mondays reading his one line of lyrics to ‘DARE’ off autocue, Snoop Dogg and De La Soul? What more did these dazzle-happy whiners want? Cobain and Curtis resurrected to perform ‘I Got You Babe’?

One of the few guests to get the response he warranted during his guest spot with the sketch-based supergroup was Lou Reed (despite a former NME staffer overhearing someone mistake him for Fabio Capello).

It’s a shame the same cannot be said for his recent appearance at the venerable Alpine gathering of the beards and berets, Montreal Jazz Festival recently. Despite being billed as a night of improvised noise featuring his wife, Laurie Anderson, and the none-more-unhinged John Zorn, people still booed because they weren’t being treated to ‘Walk On The Wild Side’ and ‘Waiting For The Man’.

Leaving the obvious question aside (who in their right mind goes up a mountain to a free-improv night at a jazz festival expecting to hear ‘Soul Man’ anyway?) this leads us with a more pressing problem: when did we become such a nation of spoiled babies who can’t even sit through some album tracks or, God forbid, some white noise?

I should have more reason than most to be upset by Reed. I interviewed him once and it was the most unpleasant thing to occur to me since I took LSD and went to see Saving Private Ryan.

He was so rude I spent two days afterwards feeling like I’d just been involved in some kind of high-impact motorway pile-up. But then I manned up and got my head round the fact that it’s Lou Reed’s job to be a difficult bastard and it’s this lack of compromise that makes him a rock icon and not just an entertainer.

The truth of the matter is, if Lou Reed came on stage naked with a vuvuzela rammed up his arse, a kazoo in his mouth and did an hour-long, two-part harmony instrumental of ‘Caroline’s A Victim’, I’d still stand respectfully in silence and watch the whole thing.

Because at the end of the day he wrote ‘Sister Ray’, he sang ‘White Light/White Heat’ (LCD Soundsystem covered it recently and changed the title to ‘Drunk Girls’), he released the ‘Transformer’ album and is responsible for one of the best songs of the American post-punk era, Street Hassle.

Reed, the terrible curmudgeon that he is, is one of ours and shame on people who treat him with less respect than a jukebox. If anyone deserves to be booed, it’s the talent show-reared fools who demand instant gratification in the shape of the ‘hits’. If you want the ‘hits’, go and watch Mumford and Sons and leave the difficult business of rock and roll to the artists.