Sometimes, late on a Saturday night, I’m at the computer, headphones on, having a few craft beers and deep diving back into my YouTube History for songs I haven’t listened to in a while. And last night I came across a song that terrifies me every time I listen to it.
Velvet Underground – Heroin
I imagine there must be people who, upon their first listen, say to themselves: “Heroin sounds like just what I need in my life.” But I’m not one of them. This song alone is enough to make me run in the other direction.
For some context, I’ve never done drugs. Of any kind. I’ve never smoked, cigarettes or anything else. My only vice is craft beer. I was the child who listened to his parents about the destructive nature of narcotics. And, being an asthmatic, the thought of smoking anything had zero appeal.
Heroin is a brilliant song and one of Lou Reed’s best vocal performances. Musically, it begins slow and melodic with just Lou Reed’s guitar and Maureen Tucker’s drum. Soon, John Cale’s electric viola and Sterling Morrison’s rhythm guitar join in. There is no bass guitar.
Listening to the singer’s riding a wave of heroin scared and riveted me the first time I heard this song. Reed’ voice and lyrics take you on his journey. Listening to this song I imagine this could only be written by someone who has experienced this.
I’ve thought a lot about why this song scares me the way it does. Some of it is the music. Cale’s searing, screeching electric viola and the relentless drumming of Tucker grip me and drag me along on a ride I would be terrified to experience for real. But beyond that is Reed’s vocal performance. His voice rises and falls, gets hard and wild and soft and sweet. There’s that moment, lost in the rush he must be experiencing where he’s laughing even as he’s nearing death. In the end, I think it is this raw, naked reveal of despair that terrifies me. Of being that lost and trying to drown the world away, and the unrelenting vulnerability of putting it all on display for the whole world to see and share.
This song has been claimed by many to glorify drug use. I don’t see it that way. To me it is just the experience of it. Reed isn’t glorifying or denouncing it. He’s simply giving us a glimpse into that ride. A ride that just seeing into that abyss in the version of a song leaves me shaken and terrified.
There are few songs that are this powerful. Songs that can take me on an emotional journey that leaves me physically spent. The End by the Doors is another one.
Is there a song that terrifies you?
Interested in music? Check out my new weekly blog series: Weekly Wonderings:
Weekly Wonderings 001 – Inaugural
Weekly Wondersing 002 – Learning