How I Learned to Relax and Love ‘Lulu’

Lou Reed and Metallica. Photo: Anton Corbijn

Music is ubiquitous and confusing. Twice a month, Eric Spitznagel stares into the bottomless chasm of new (and old) songs, albums and musicians that permeate our lives, and tries to pretend he has any idea what it all means.

My wife and I are having arguments that’ve become all too commonplace. Every time we get in the car, she wants to listen to Christmas music, because it’s December and she’s already in the holiday spirit. But me, I just want to listen to the Lou Reed/Metallica collaboration Lulu for the zillionth time.

“Jesus Christ, will you turn that shit off?” she howls at me. “I feel like my ears are being raped.”

“It’s Lou Reed,” I scold her timidly. “Have some respect.”

“He should’ve had some respect and burned every copy before inflicting it on the world. Why anybody would willingly subject themselves to this musical retching more than once is beyond me.”

And that, of course, is exactly why I’m doing it.

Like my wife and pretty much everybody else, my first reaction to hearing Lulu when it was released a month ago was “Well, that’s fucking terrible.” I barely made it through the second track before giving up. The reviews, however, were far more entertaining. Critics went after Lulu like sharks ripping apart chum. I’m not usually a schadenfreude kinda guy. I get no pleasure in somebody getting kicked when they’re down. But when that somebody is Lou Reed, a man so blindly convinced of his own creative infallibility that he called an obvious failure like Lulu “the best thing done by anyone, ever,” well, you don’t have to be Lester Bangs to want to make a Transformer cry.

“I still can’t decide if Lulu is the most brilliantly subtle comedy album of the 21st century, or if the joke is on me. Which begs a larger question: does Lou Reed have a sense of humor?”

But among all the colorful and hilarious vitriol, there was a consistent thru-line that ran through many Lulu reviews. Whether they hated it or really hated it, most critics agreed that Lulu would never and should never be listened to a second time. Jeremy Larson at Consequence of Sound wrote that Lulu “simply cannot be tolerated more than once.” Matthew Wilkening at Ultimate Classic Rock quipped “It’s hard to picture anybody that doesn’t have an extremely unique combination of literary and metal music tastes putting Lulu in heavy rotation for very long.” And Chuck Klosterman, whose fantastic Grantland review of Lulu was (justifiably) more celebrated than Lulu itself, called it an “absurd collaboration that no one wants to take seriously (or even play more than once).” Subsequent reviews just echoed these sentiments, contributing to the rising chorus of “Thank god that’s over, let’s never speak of it again.”

My head agreed, but my heart knew the logic was flawed. First impressions are invariably wrong. I didn’t like spinach the first time I tried it. Now, it’s the only ingredient I want in an omelet. Most of the things I love today I didn’t love until my fourth or fifth experience with them. Bourbon. Kevin Smith movies. Southern California. Facebook. It all took time to grow on me. How could I, or anybody, listen to Lulu just once and decide exactly how we felt about it? You want to know something’s worth, you need to live with it, wake up next to it every morning, spoon with it every night, really let its essence sink into your pores. All art, even bad art, is essentially a Magic Eye painting. You have to stare at it long enough and get your eyes to unfocus before you’ll see what’s really going on.

From its official release on Halloween to yesterday at approximately 11 pm Eastern Time, I listened exclusively to Lulu. And here’s what I learned: