Saturday, November 09, 2013


Okay, now we're getting into it.
First of all, this is an update of "Blue Suede Shoes", where the singer itemizes things he doesn't mind losing at the end of a relationship, hinting that being rid of the person he's addressing is worth losing his worldly possessions over. Dolly Parton uses the same technique on her brilliant "I'm Gone" with the twist that SHE'S THE ONE who's leaving which puts it more in the tradition of Kiss Off Songs like Dylan's "It Ain't Me" or Johnny Cash's "Understand Your Man"(which has a mini-inventory line: "You can give my other suit to the Salvation Army, and everything else I leave behind").

Here, in addition to his pretty typical list of shit he can do without (his Porsche, some rugs, the kids), Lou gives us a bizarre retelling of the Book of Genesis, "Eve kissed Abel, that's how he got murdered by Cain", before turning to address Eve herself (and maybe he's been talking to her all along? We'll revisit this on the title track.), and here's where the innuendo gets really bizarre. He tells her "take a bite of my apple" and then begs her to leave him his Red Joystick. This is Supreme Lou here, with dick metaphors piled up on top of each other and a heavy come on to the Original Woman.
UNLESS Lou is really talking about a red joystick and not a "red joystick". Lou Reed, after all, was a notorious gearhead (Metal Machine Music, after all, is just a guy so enamoured with his electronic devices he believes even their accidental or incidental sounds are sacred) and what's a joystick but a great piece of gear? Some of you are probably asking, what's a joystick?
The joystick was king until what, 1987/1988, when the OG Nintendo system came out and replaced video games central phallus motif with something more like nipples, effectively changing gaming from masturbation substitute to foreplay substitute.
There's a story out there somewhere about how Miles Davis was a Robocop fan. But who isn't? So why wouldn't Lou Reed love video games, especially in 1984 when they were simultaneously futuristic and primitive? What video games did you like in 1984, Lou Reed? Did you like Pitfall? Burger Time? Dig Dug? YOU NEVER TOLD US.
So you have to at least allow for the possibility then that "take a bite of my apple" is about his dick, and "my red joystick" is about his red joystick.
You also have to really consider the underlying misogyny of the song. "Eve" in the song, and across many other appearances, can be understood to stand for all women, and the Singer here just wants women to leave him alone so he can play his video games. Plus ca change, and all that.
There's also the novelty of this song, or at least of its title and likely central metaphor. "Pac-Man Fever" came out in 1982. New Sensations came out in April, 1984. I don't know what the production cycle was like on the album, but it's hard to imagine "Pac-Man Fever" wasn't somewhere on Lou's mind when he wrote this song, especially when you remember he honed his songwriting chops churning out knock-off hits for Pickwick Records.

But you can't dismiss the song as mere novelty either. After all, the album was called New Sensations, but the LP cover showed Lou playing a video game (of himself!) with a RED JOYSTICK. The Red Joystick matters! In a lot of ways, News Sensations is a first draft of New York (in the same way that Homicide is a first draft of The Wire). Lou is starting to perfect rock & roll as Creative Non-Fiction. "My Red Joystick", New Sensations, I don't know. Wikipedia says "critics and listeners alike took note of a change in the songs as being more upbeat and fun than much of Reed's prior work." Which is kind of bullshit, because "My Red Joystick" is a really angry song, and all of Lou Reed's songs are fun, especially the nasty ones. This was Lou's third album with bass player Fernando Saunders, and that probably had an effect on the "upbeat" sound of the record as much as anything else. I dunno.
"My red joystick, my red joystick, all I'm asking you to leave me is my little red joystick," he's probably talking about his dick.

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