A recent review in the Financial Times* of a Lou Reed show at the Hammersmith Apollo in London by Ludovic Hunter-Tilney** indicated that Reed’s audience may have become even stranger than Lou. Hunter-Tilney writes: “Toward the end of Lou Reed’s concert a man behind me began repeatedly shouting: ‘Play something we like.’ There were boos and catcalls amid the warm applause when Reed and his band took a bow.”
“Play something we like” is essentially a way of saying: “Play your hits.” Which is somewhat odd in the context of Reed, a man who, after more than 30 years on the stage, has never really had a “hit.” Before some of you jump down to the Comments section to blister me for that observation, yes, yes, there was “Walk on the Wild Side,” which he played in London, and to a lesser extent, pieces including “Sweet Jane” and “Heroin.” But nowadays “hit” signifies something that’s far, far beyond the combined sales of those three songs. “Hit” has absolutely nothing to do with influence. Yes, the three aforementioned songs are each arguably influential, but “hits” are often the opposite of meaningfully influential inasmuch as other musicians, looking for their own “hits,” may copy the style of the “hit.” In other words, influential songs have an effect; “hits” tend to be transient (i.e., while there may be individual “hits” that are epochal in their consequence, if the mass number of “hits” is considered, think meteor shower).
So there’s Reed. What’s more than somewhat puzzling is that there were a sufficient number of people at the concert who were disappointed such that Hunter-Tilney noted their reaction to what he apparently considered to be a good outing (he gave it three out of five stars). What were the upset ones anticipating? Selections from Berlin?
What exactly is it that audiences are listening for when they attend concerts by performers whom they think highly enough to spend time, money and effort on? For performers without “hits,” is there a sufficiently common wish list such that there could be a critical mass of people in the audience who would be satisfied with a set, or is it too individual?
One final thing about “hit”-less performers. Reed is out there not in support of a new disc. He is probably out there working because he doesn’t have a heck of a lot of choice. He has made his career move, and chances are it doesn’t come with health care and a 401-K. While he has greater fame than many of us will ever realize, the price of his fame doesn’t entitle him to what many of us take, if not for granted, then as the trade-off for earning our keep.
*While it may see odd to find coverage of rock in a journal devoted to the various economic aspects of global capitalism, there are at least a couple of reasons why attention to the subject is merited: (1) if the performers in question are along the lines of the Stones, then the financial implications are obvious; (2) those individuals who are making and moving markets are just as—or more—likely to listen to rock as opera.
**Beyond the courtesy of mentioning the writer’s name, it is interesting to include it for no other reasons than to point out that (a) people named Hunter-Tilney exist and (b) they actually review rock shows for an august financial sheet.