Lou Reed’s 1992 masterpiece, “Magic and Loss” is informed by the deaths of two friends; the great American songwriter, Doc Pomus, and Warhol factory regular Rotten Rita.
Pomus, of course, is one of the honored presences in the rock and roll canon who wrote a slew of hits as part of the Brill Building creative brain-trust; a generation of songwriters that included Stoller and Leiber, as well as Gerry Goffin, Phil Spector, and Carole King. Pomus wrote the lovely and longing “This Magic Moment,” which Lou later covered for the soundtrack of a rather forgettable film. Lou’s version is elegiac and heartfelt, concluding a with a coda for his departed friend at the tail end of the song, comprised of the title of another Pomus chestnut,”Save the last dance for me, Babe.”
Lou’s rendering of this song is almost as quiet and intimate as a prayer. Only Mike Rathke’s thundering guitar hints at the howling absence of Doc himself.
Pomus was an American treasure who wrote hits for a great many singers and bands throughout his long career. “Sweets for my Sweet,” “Turn me Loose,” and “Little Sister” were all Pomus songs, as well as “Lonely Avenue,” the song that came to define Ray Charles in the late ’50s, and has been covered by everyone from Los Lobos to Van Morrison. The influence of the former Jerome Solon Felder is incalculable.
Doc started out as a blues singer, very often being the only white guy in the clubs. As a polio victim, who walked with the aid of crutches and as well as being Jewish, Doc felt the underdog kinship with African American musicians and very often, he explained his songs by saying he wrote them for “…those people stumbling around in the night out there, uncertain or not always so certain of exactly where they fit in and where they were headed.”
Doc’s songs remind me of nothing so much as the Edward Hopper painting, “Nighthawks,” painted a full generation before rock and roll–with their lonely, longing hues of the night ending with nobody to hug or a hand to hold.
Songs of love and loss had immense purchase on the work of Lou Reed. Those departed, and those estranged, haunt almost every song in Lou’s catalogue. From “The Sword of Damocles” to “The Halloween Parade” to “The Finish Line,” Lou informs us there are no proportions in grief and loss; only shadow, only memory, and only the songs.