Noir Poets: Lou Reed

Dirty Boulevard

Pedro lives out of the Wilshire Hotel
he looks out a window without glass
The walls are made of cardboard, newspapers on his feet
his father beats him ’cause he’s too tired to beg

He’s got 9 brothers and sisters
they’re brought up on their knees
it’s hard to run when a coat hanger beats you on the thighs
Pedro dreams of being older and killing the old man
but that’s a slim chance he’s going to the boulevard

He’s going to end up, on the dirty boulevard
he’s going out, to the dirty boulevard
He’s going down, to the dirty boulevard

This room cost 2,000 dollars a month
you can believe it man it’s true
somewhere a landlord’s laughing till he wets his pants
No one here dreams of being a doctor
or a lawyer or anything
they dream of dealing on the dirty boulevard

Give me your hungry, your tired your poor I’ll piss on ’em
that’s what the Statue of Bigotry says
Your poor huddled masses, let’s club ’em to death
and get it over with and just dump ’em on the boulevard

Get to end up, on the dirty boulevard
going out, to the dirty boulevard
He’s going down, on the dirty boulevard
going out

Outside it’s a bright night
there’s an opera at Lincoln Center
movie stars arrive by limousine
The klieg lights shoot up over the skyline of Manhattan
but the lights are out on the Mean Streets

A small kid stands by the Lincoln Tunnel
he’s selling plastic roses for a buck
The traffic’s backed up to 39th street
the TV whores are calling the cops out for a suck

And back at the Wilshire, Pedro sits there dreaming
he’s found a book on magic in a garbage can
He looks at the pictures and stares at the cracked ceiling
“At the count of 3” he says,
“I hope I can disappear”

And fly fly away, from this dirty boulevard
I want to fly, from dirty boulevard
I want to fly, from dirty boulevard
I want to fly-fly-fly-fly, from dirty boulevard…

– Lou Reed  | LP Album ‘New York’ (1989)

3 thoughts on “Noir Poets: Lou Reed”

  1. This is an utterly powerful and haunting song, one of the best Reed has ever written in fact. The poor aspire to leave the ‘dirty boulevard’ which is a place of squalor, physical abuse and hopelessness. The song points out the disparity between rich and poor when it envisions a brightly lit Lincoln Center, where an opera is now being staged, and limousines with movie stars pull up.

    I’ve been tied up myself in traffic on 39th Street, and I’ve seen firsthand the young ones selling roses and bottles of water to make a buck, and the postitutes are out there doing their thing. Reed’s imagery is vivid and compelling.

    It’s a song about a yearning to escape from the hand that was dealt to those trapped in a social sphere most can never overcome.

    The last stanza is deeply moving, but the song is masterfully written. I know Reed performed this song at his celebrated pairing with Bowie in the late 90’s at a bithday concert.

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  2. Introducing Lou Reed’s poetry and music is a particularly engaging move. Thanks for launching this!(Later this month, we’re going to see Julian Schnabel’s Lou Reed’s Berlin.) The torrent of anguish in “Dirty Boulevard” has been almost fatally struck by the volume of malignancy in world history. Other work by him adopts a confessional voice about personal failings. I wonder if Andy Warhol wasn’t concerned to nudge him along, by introducing the actress, Nico, to the Velvet Underground? Does his recent association with Laurie Anderson and Asian mysticism involve a catching up with that problem? Is there an occupational hazard in being an arts celebrity, inasmuch as it prompts reflection in terms of massive currents of intent, and oneself as a strictly interpersonal player? (In “Playing Music Is Not Like Athletics,” he says, “Talent carries its own weight.”)

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  3. Great comments guys. You really have taken the post into interesting directions.

    Reed’s social commitment is rare in rock and builds strong bridges to the personal. Nico’s possible creative influence on Reed is a fascinating segue. She certainly affected Jim Morrison’s output during their turbulent on-off relationship.

    And yes, Dirty Boulevard is great rock!

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