Matt Carmichael
The Greatest Album Ever Made
by Lester Bangs

This 1976 Creem article by the world's greatest rock critic, Lester Bangs, is his take on Metal Machine Music. Enjoy, and if you like it, read more on his relationship with Lou and his other writings in Psychotic Reactions and Carburetor Dung or read about his life in Let It Blurt : The Life and Times of Lester Bangs. This article is reprinted by permission of Creem Media Inc.

It has been suggested that in my annual regress report to the stockholders, published here last month, I neglected in all five thousand words to ever once mention why Metal Machine Music is a good album. So here, especially in light of Coney Island Baby, are the reasons:

If you ever thought feedback was the best thing that ever happened to the guitar, well, Lou just got rid of the guitars.

I realize that any idiot with the equipment could have made this album, including me, you or Lou. That's one of the main reasons I like it so much. As with the Godz and Tangerine Dream, not only does it bring you closer to the artist, but someday, god willing, I may get to do my own Metal Machine Music. It's all folk music, anyway.

When you wake up in the morning with the worst hangover of your life, Metal Machine Music is the best medicine. Because when you first arise you're probably so fucked (i.e., still drunk) that is doesn't even really hurt yet (not like it's going to), so you should put this album on immediately, not only to clear all the crap out of your head, but to prepare you for what's in store the rest of the day.

Speaking of clearing out crap, I once had this friend who would say, "I take acid at least every two months & JUST BLOW ALL THE BAD SHIT OUTA MY BRAIN!" So I say the same thing about MMM. Except I take it about once a day, like vitamins.

In his excellent liner notes, Lou asserts that he and the other speedfreaks did not start World Wars I, II, "or the Bay of Pigs, for that matter." And he's right. If everybody took amphetamines, all the time, everybody would understand each other. Either that or never listen or bother with the other son of a bitch, because they'd all be too busy spending three days drawing psychedelic lines around a piece of steno paper until it's totally black, writing eighty-page letters about meaningless occurrences to their mothers, or creating MMM. There would be no more wars, and peace and harmony would reign. Just imagine Gerald Ford on speed- he might manifest some glimmer of personality. Or Ronald Reagan- a blood vessel in his snapping-turtle lips would immediately burst, perhaps ridding us of that cocksucker. As is well known by now, JFK enjoyed regular injections of Meth and vitamins from happy croakers. 'Nuff said. Hey may not have actually accomplished anything (except the Bay of Pigs- wait a minute, Lou hasn't been doing his homework), but he had style and a winning smile.

I have heard this record characterized as "anti-human" and "anti-emotional." That it is, in a sense, since it is music made more by tape recorders, amps, speakers, microphones and ring modulators than any set of human hands and emotions. But so what? Almost all music today is anti-emotional and made by machines too. >From Elton John to disco to Sally Can't Dance (which Lou doesn't realize is one of his best albums, precisely because it's so cold) it's computerized formula production line shit into which the human heart enters very rarely if at all. At least Lou is upfront about it, which makes him more human than the rest of those MOR dicknoses. Besides which, any record that sends listeners fleeing the room screaming for surcease of aural flagellation or, alternately, getting physical and disturbing your medications to the point of breaking the damn thing, can hardly be accused, at least in results if not original creative man-hours, of lacking emotional content. Why do people got to see movies like Jaws, The Exorcist, or Iisa, She Wolf of the SS? So they can get beat over the head with baseball bats, have their nerves wrenched while electrodes are being stapled to their spines, and generally brutalized at least every once ever fifteen minutes or so (the time between the face falling out of the bottom of the sunk boat and they guy's bit-off leg hitting the bottom of the ocean). This is what, today, is commonly understood as entertainment, as fun, as art even! So they've got a lot of nerve landing on Lou for MMM. At least here there's no fifteen minutes of bullshit padding between brutalizations. Anybody who got off on The Exorcist should like this record. It's certainly far more moral a product.

Charisma. Lou's been slipping of late, but for those who remember and understand the Myth, the Legend-i.e., he was an emblem of absolute negativism- MMM has more charisma than a cage full of porcupines has quills.

All landlords are mealymouthed bastards who would let the ruins of Pompeii fall on your four-poster before they'd lift a finger. They deserve whatever they get, and MMM is the all-time guaranteed lease breaker. Every tenant in America should own a copy of this album. Forearmed!

My pet land hermit crab, Spud, who sometimes goes for days at a time curled up inside his shell in a corner of the cage so you gotta check to see if he's dead, likes MMM a lot. Every time I put it on, he comes out of his shell and starts crawling happily around the sand and climbing the bars. It is, in fact, the only time I ever see him get any exercise. Either that or he's dancing. 10. I have been told that Lou's recordings, but most specifically this item, have become a kind of secret cult among teenage mental institution inmates all across the nation. I have been told further that those adolescents who have been subjected to electroshock therapy enjoy a particular affinity for MMM, that it reportedly "soothes their nerves," and is ultimately a kind of anthem. If anyone out there reading this knows any more about this phenomenon, please get in touch with me immediately.

I played it for President Idi "Big Daddy" Amin of Uganda when he flew me and Lisa Robinson over there to interview him for upcoming cover articles in Creem and Hit Parader, and he absolutely loved it. I gave him a copy, and now by special edict he has it piped through the Muzak vents of ever supermarket (all thirty-five of them) and doctor's waiting room (all eight) in his great nation, so that the citizens there may be inspired to ever fiercer heights of patriotism for his regime and all that it stands for. He wanted to declare it the Ugandan national anthem, but I told him that I would have to check with the American teenage shock vets first, and being a wise, fair, graciously diplomatic politician, he of course immediately assented, and then, genial host that he is, whisked us off to see a life multiple snuff film done sans cameras and celluloid. "We can't afford them," he explained. "And besides, the next time you have a dangling conversation with Paul Simon, you can inform him that the theatre is not really dead."

I think that, in this time of recession/depression and with the whole music business tightening its belt, it is truly thoughtful of Lou to cut recording costs as much as MMM must have, especially when you consider the stupefying self-indulgence of so many of today's rock "masterpieces" with their overproductions so baroquely lavish it all turns to tinsel. Only James Brown, I think, approaches Lou's achievement here in terms of sheer economy and minimal booking of expensive studio time. MMM is actually, far from some nihilist rampage, one giant WIN button. Or more precisely, two since it is a two record set.

And why this is, of all Lou Reed albums (and the man's songwriting prolifigacy is indeed astounding. "Just lock Lou in a room for an hour," Dennis Katz told me once, "and when you let him out he's got fifteen new songs!" The reason why he keeps on recording old Velvet Underground outtakes he wrote upwards of a decade ago is that he's saving all his best new stuff for 863 LPs to be released, one every two months, after he dies, assuming that he ever does. "I'm not gonna let those bloodsuckers rip me off and tarnish my memory like happened to poor Jimi," he confided to me once over two Schaefer's drafts at McSorley's. "My fans will never get less than A+ quality, as my friend Bob Christgau would put it, and besides it's quite likely that I will live forever, because me and some doctor friends I hang out with just discovered that there's a secret, heretofore unknown ingredient in methamphetamine which retards the aging process.

So theoretically if you can get and just keep shooting this stuff, you could live for the rest of human history, which is why we're doing some resynthesizing experiments to see if we can bring this certain ingredient a little more into the foreground of the compound. I think it's called atropine. It's been around for a long time, the Indians knew about it but recognized in the face of their dog race inferiority it would be more moral to forget about it and submit themselves to extermination by white Europeans, who were the only ones with the technological knowhow to extract the raw chemical and refine it into a form you can cook up and shoot. But anyway that's where you got that Ponce de Leon business, and his only problem was the fucker, being a dumb spic, naturally had no idea how to prepare it in any potent form. So everybody concluded it was a myth and forgot about it until I came along, and potency is my middle name. So now you can let your readers in on the little secret that not only am I the toughest, baddest, most well-hung stud in show business, which actually is only because in 1973 I went to Sweden and had a transplant so now instead of a cock I got a horse doctors syringe, not only that but there's a damn good chance I'm even gonna cut that punk Cagliostro at his own riffs and live forever.

Of course, you never can discount unforeseen circumstances, plane crashes and the like, which is why I got these eight hundred albums in the can just in case. There's all sorts of stuff, like one is I rewrote my own version of Rigoletto, you know that opera by Scriabin, except it's set in this Puerto Rican leather bar where all the customers are amputated at the thigh and rolling around on these little carts on wheels. They keep trying to have punchouts, except their carts keep bumping and they can't reach each other. So they got very frustrated. I sang all the parts myself, and I stole all the lyrics off old 'Lucas Tanner' dialogue, but nobody will notice the difference because I made the music salsa and it's so fucking loud you can't hear any of the words. But I'm not gonna put that out just yet. They'll have to wait a while for that. What my next album is gonna be is the follow-up to Metal Machine Music, which sounds exactly the same except it's gonna be a concept album about all this stuff I was telling you before about aging and a five-record set in a gold embossed box with a booklet inside featuring blown-up Polaroid SX-70s of me tying off, hitting up, sterilizing my works with alcohol and then going out Christmas shopping for Andy and all the kids at Bloomingdale's and the Pleasure Chest, where the last pic is me modeling a cock ring on my horse geezer.

I predict by that time the general public will have grown ears and gotten hip enough to appreciate Metal Machine Music, so this follow-up, which I'm gonna call Triumph of the Will, will be the best-selling LP of all time and those ratfucks in Chicago can suck my asshole along with that little blob Elton John who could use some speed almost as bad as Leslie West but can't have any of mine, because as I think it was Pat Ast said in that fabulous review of Coney Island Baby in the Soho Weekly News 'I have seen rock's future and its name is Lou Reed'"), a double album, you ask? Simple- the two discs are, according to Lou, symbolic of two tits ("There's never more than two," he explained), to signify that this is, albeit mechanized, a very sexy album designed to cut in heavily on the hot Barry White market.

Everybody knows that drugs come in sexes. Down are feminine, speed is masculine. Down make you all nice and sweet and pliant and tenderized with E-Z Bake, whereas speed makes you aggressive and visceral and forthright and a real take-charge kind of guy/gal. (Makes no difference because all humans are the same sex, except albinos. It is the drugs that, obviously, determine the gender of the being.) So which one you take when you get up in the morning just involves whether you wanna be Donna Mills or Joe Don Baker that day. It's totally your prerogative.

Similarly, Coney Island Baby, fine and indeed heartfelt as it is, is a downs LP. Not putdown involved- Lou's favorite old Velvet songs were always the ballads, and he's got a right to get sweet on himself. Love is silt. Anybody who has ever taken Quaaludes and wound up loving the rest of the human race so much they ended up in bed with a human turnip knows that. The lyrics are better than any Lou-nee Tunes in a while, but not that not since Transformer have so many of them been explicitly preoccupied with the, er, ah . . . "gay" scene. Which certainly can't be said of CIB's immediate predecessor. Me, I like sex with vegetables, but I nurse this lingering paranoia that someday, some drunken night, I may get a radish between the sheets and discover it's homosexual. Thus I feel threatened by Coney Island Baby, just as I feel threatened by Valiums, Tuinals, Seconals, Quaaludes, and Compoz. Metal Machine Music, on the contrary, reinforces my sense of myself as a man. Under my blacklight presidential campaign poster of Hunter Thompson, I bolt upright in repose, my rifle casually draped cross my lap, listening to MMM and dreaming of My Lai as starring Fritz the Cat. So fuck downs, avoid Coney Island Baby like guys who wear green on Thursdays, and keep it (your fist) up tight.

MMM is Lou's soul. If there is one thing he would like to see buried in a time capsule, this is it.

It sounds better on Romilar than any other record I have ever heard.

It is the greatest record ever made in the history of the human eardrum. Number Two: Kiss Alive!

taken from- Creem, March 1976