The true meaning of Lou Reed’s Perfect Day

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Two different Americas. The first represented by The Beach Boys, The Doors, and the dream of the never-ending Californian summer. The America that supported free, easy. As if it’s easy to fall in love without consequences… an America represented by those who took drugs, preaching the message that they did so as an act of awareness and spiritual growth, in order to open the doors of perception or to live out shamanic experiences in the desert.

Then, there is another America. The one depicted by those who told it like it was. With honesty. A reality that was told without makeup, not afraid to see the dark side in each of us. The weakness, the fragility, the malice and the selfishness.

There was once someone who was not afraid to tell us that love was also suffering, that it was likely you would meet the wrong people and that feelings degenerate because they are not pure – because none of us can be said to be truly pure. There was once someone who was not afraid to declare that, if they took drugs it was out of desperation, alienation, to destroy themselves; nothing to do with spiritual thoughts or guides. That person was Lou Reed. An artist able to explore the dark side of reality, the things that nobody else talked about, or wanted to talk about. The dark corners of life, the ones that each of us knows, even though we would prefer not to shine a light on them in order to keep our carefully-crafted appearances intact, and the places and roles that we have in society.

Lou Reed was able to place us all in front of a mirror, in a strong contrast to the hippie rhetoric of peace and free love that raged in California in those years. He was a deeply sensitive artist, who had touched pain with his hand and seen the darkness with his eyes. Reed was afraid of sleep because the darkness and loss of consciousness took him back to the electroshock therapy (a very common therapy back in the days) he had received when he was teenager, that had been administered to “cure” his alleged homosexuality. If you analyse some of his albums, you may come to realise that the sensitivity of his sublime poetry came from the pain.

Perfect Day, the single released in November 1972 from his second album Transformer, is simply the “perfect song”. The song that everyone would like to receive as a love message. The most beautiful song on the album, and perhaps the most beautiful song by Reed.

You made me forget myself
I thought I was someone else
Someone Good

These are the verses that I most adore of this immortal poem. It’s great to think that there is someone in the world who will help you forget who you are and make you feel better. It reminds me of a phrase from Jack Nicholson’s beautiful movie As Good As It Gets, where at some point, Jack says to Helen Hunt: “You make me want to be a better man”. The person to whom Lou Reed is talking in the song is Shelley, one of the most important women in his life since adolescence, the woman who inspired some of the most beautiful songs in his first part of the career (including I’ll Be your Mirror).

Shelley was Lou’s first real love story, which lasted for his whole time at high school. A very complex and psychologically intense story. Reed recalled, in some interviews, how beautiful those meetings were; going to get ice cream, going to the zoo together, seeing a movie. All the while he tells us in the lyrics, that it is wonderful to enjoy the little pleasures in life, because we won’t have a second perfect day, as the sad melody and the cadence of the voice suggest. That day was perfect and had to be perfectly immortalised, forever, in memory and in this song.

The fruits of those moments will continue to be collected for a very long time, as he says in the last verse: “You’re going to reap just what you sow”. Behind a good harvest there is always hard work – simple, but so difficult to put in place. It’s not easy to listen and listen and understand the difficulties, needs and feelings of each other. It is even more difficult to put aside our selfishness, our ego and our fears, to give love, then to learn how to receive it. The concept is deep and extensive; all the books in the world would not be enough to fully explain it, yet Reed expressed and synthesised it in a few, unforgettable verses.

All great musicians owe something to Lou Reed. In the video below, produced by the BBC in 1997, which afterwards become a successful charity single, many of them joined together to pay homage to this immortal poem and its amazing creator.

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3 comments

  1. Good article, wrong reference, “You make me want to be a better man” is in “As good as it gets” and not in “Something’s gotta give”. Easy to spot as H. Hunt is not in the latter, although I noticed immediately because “YMMWTBABetterMan” is a line that I used a lot during my bachelor’s years.

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