Metal Machine Music, Live

Category : Blog Archive Apr 25th, 2009

Lou Reed performs some variant of Metal Machine Music at Gramercy Theatre in New York.

I believe the most brilliant description ever written of the original MMM was penned by Lester Bangs:

In case you just got here or think Metal Machine Music refers to something in the neighborhood of Bad Company, let me briefly explain that what we have here is a one-hour two-record set of nothing, absolutely nothing but screaming feedback noise recorded at various frequencies, played back against various other noise layers, split down the middle into two totally separate channels of utterly inhuman shrieks and hisses, and sold to an audience that was, to put it as mildly as possible, unprepared for it. Because sentient humans simply find it impossible not to vacate any room where it is playing. With certain isolated exceptions: mutants, mental patients, shriek freaks, masochists, sadists, amphetamine addicts, hate buffs, drug-numbed weirdos too walled off by chemicals to feel anything, other people whose nervous systems are already so bent out of shape that it sounds perfectly acceptable, the last category possibly including the author of this article, who likes Metal Machine Music so much that he acquired (did not buy) an 8-track RCA cartridge (on which are imprinted the words “SPECIAL VALUE!”) so that he can listen to it in his car.

Rolling Stone describes the audience at Gramercy as “[consisting] mostly of intellectual types.” Makes you wonder? I guess we might update Bangs’s list by adding “the morbidly curious.” (I count myself in this category, having worked on and off for a year or so on a research paper about MMM.)

Some of the audience members in New York were apparently both sentient and compos mentis:

Toward the second half of the show the music calmed down and Reed got ready to play guitar. This was when people started to leave. It was as if a quiet illness had come over the audience. People would slowly get up and then stagger through the aisle to get out. Others had started staring at a young man near the front row who kept erupting into inexplicable fits of laughter.

Well, as Reed himself wrote, “No one I know has listened to [MMM] all the way through including myself. I’m sorry, but not especially, if it turns you off.”