#142 & 143 – Walk On The Wild Side by Lou Reed
I had a college roommate I didn’t like very much. That’s okay, because I’m sure he didn’t like me at all. We only shared a room for one quarter of a school year, which was enough. The guy moved out and I never saw him again. But that doesn’t mean my adventures with his “family” were over.
I can’t remember why we antagonized each other. It was never to the point where we had heated arguments or even close. It’s just that he was as annoying as I was, and we got on each other’s nerves. It’s no wonder I had the best grade point average of my entire college career during that quarter because I spent more time in the library than I did in our room.
So, what’s the connection between one of my many (maybe I was the problem?) college roommates and Lou Reed? I don’t think there was any really, if you know anything about Lou Reed, The Velvet Underground and Andy Warhol. But there was a common denominator:
Walk On The Wild Side.
This song joined the Dream Song List twice on December 26 and almost a year to the day later on December 24. This gives Walk On The Wild Side a very special status – and I’m not talking about a December holiday theme. If you’ve read about how this countdown works, the more times a song appears causes it to rank higher on the list. Every song up to now has been a one-hit, one-wakeup wonder.
Walk On The Wild Side is the first repeat, which gives us new meaning to the term – Deuces Are Wild. It’s also wild I hadn’t heard it in a while, unlike during the time we shared a room. I’ll explain that in moment, but for right now it joins the subliminal category of Dream Songs.
I’m not going to make any allegations my former roommate walked on the wild side. At least not in the way Lou Reed describes it. And as a college freshman, I didn’t either, unless it involved draft beer and cute girls.
But I found out a couple years later his “family” did.
The reason I’m writing about this lost college connection (I honestly can’t remember his first name) revolves around his late night radio habit. He would fall asleep listening to music, which means I did too.
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I’m not complaining about the bedtime tunes since this Classic Rocker was a rocker before these songs were considered classic. In fact, the only fun memory of this guy is having his radio on and hearing Walk On The Wild Side every night before falling asleep. And when I say “every night” I mean it. The station we listened to had this on heavy play rotation during that entire school quarter.
Even decades later when I hear the song, I can immediately picture every detail of our room including bunk beds, desks, chairs, closets and one phone hung on the wall. I used it every Wednesday at 6 pm to call home and say hello to my family.
It became obvious to me later that my family was much different than his “family.”
Okay, I don’t want to make any allegations or give you the wrong idea when I write “family.” It wasn’t like The Godfather or… Oh wait. Yeah, I guess it was.
A year or two later I took a week-long summer road trip to New England’s Cape Cod with one of my best friends, who was also a college fraternity brother. We camped out on sand dunes, ate seafood and hung out at the beach. At night we looked for clubs with draft beer and cute girls.
In retrospective, it was sort of like being in summer school.
In a wild twist of fate, it turned out my ex-roommate’s older brother had attended our same college and was also a member of our fraternity. I had never met him since I was younger, but my pal did. Since he lived close by at his “family” home in Connecticut, a phone call was made and we were invited to the house for an overnight stay.
To be honest, I was a bit worried about the reception I’d have waiting for me, but it turned out very cool. The older brother asked why we hadn’t gotten along, and I answered honestly. I said he annoyed me, and I annoyed him. That was good enough and we had a good laugh. It was also helpful that the brother in question wasn’t there with us.
We ended up having a big Italian dinner with our frat brother, his parents and a few other family members. Then, I’m not sure when the subject came up, but I’ll go ahead and say it was helped by a few glasses of red wine with our pasta. The real family name of our hosts was the same “family” name of a notorious New York Mafia chief.
No lie. But wait. It gets better… Or scarier, if you prefer.
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The notorious gangster who was the real life uncle to the family we were staying with that night had been in the news not too long before. It wasn’t for a big trial, big heist or big insider story. He had been gunned down by a rival “family” on a sidewalk in New York’s Little Italy district.
Yeah, let’s make that scarier rather than getting better… If you prefer (I do). Talk about taking a walk on the wild side…
But to be honest, I’ll stop with the dramatics. I actually felt quite safe even after knowing the “family” connections. I thought if there was any trouble during the night, this group would know how to “go to the mattresses” (Godfather reference for movie novices) while my pal and I could sleep safe in an upstairs bedroom at their large house.
We had decided the next day to make a quick trip into New York City before heading home. I was reminded by our host that I had talked during dinner (and wine) about wanting a black, pin-striped suit. We had seen the movie A Clockwork Orange during a rainy afternoon on Cape Cod and for some reason, I thought Malcom McDowell looked cool wearing one.
Tony (our host’s real name, but I’ll keep the last name to myself to avoid needing a witness protection program) walked us to our car and handed me a folded piece of paper. I opened it and saw an address on Mulberry Street in Lower Manhattan’s Little Italy neighborhood. He said to go to the address and tell them he sent us. They’ll take care of me.
We drove into Manhattan and found the address on Mulberry Street. It was a men’s clothing store, so we walked in and announced that Tony had sent us. All of a sudden, we had another new “friend” who seemed to be the owner or guardian (or tailor?) of the store. I asked about a black pin-striped suit and he showed me a really nice one in my size. The problem was that it had a very expensive (at least for a college student) price tag. It’s hard to remember exactly, but I’ll guess it was in the $300 range, which was a lot of money for a college student – especially all those years ago.
I told him thanks but no thanks. I couldn’t afford it. But he didn’t seem to be the type of guy who would take no for an answer…
“No problem,” he said, and came down on the price. I still couldn’t do it, so he lowered it again – and even again, if I would pay cash. Our negotiations – me saying no and him coming down in price – continued until we hit $99. Even me (as a college student) knew that was a good deal, but then something happened.
I must have assumed some of the cockiness Malcom McDowell had in A Clockwork Orange and thought I could get him to cut the price even more, so I refused again. That’s when I realized my assumed movie character was negotiating with one that was closer to Marlon Brando’s in The Godfather.
I remember it started to get a little scary. Don Corleone… or the tailor… began losing his temper and was mad about wasting his time. I had a feeling he was about to “go to the mattresses” and his sights would be aimed at me. I thought the best deal for me was to get out of there – in a hurry.
I turned, walked out of the store and headed toward our parked car. I think there were a few choice words aimed in my direction, but at least I felt a little safer outside, until realizing the head of the “family” where we had stayed the night before might have felt the same way on a Little Italy sidewalk – until bullets started flying in his direction. I also realized $99 was a darn good price for a new suit.
My friend agreed. But in his case, he might have been thinking of my purchase as a peace offering and personal protection, rather than me looking stylish.
I handed him the money with instructions to go back buy the suit. He did, telling Don Corleone… uh, the tailor, that his friend (me) was an idiot to pass up such a deal and that he wanted to buy it for himself. He came back, handed me the suit and I tossed it into our car. Without looking back, we made our getaway uptown where we spent a much calmer afternoon walking around Rockefeller Center before starting the long drive back to our home turf.
I can’t remember where I ever wore the suit, since being stylish in college meant bellbottom jeans and nothing resembling anything seen in A Clockwork Orange or The Godfather. But I can still picture it in my mind looking cool hanging in the closet as a reminder of my Walk On The Wild Side.
Here’s a video of Lou Reed performing Walk On The Wild Side at Farm Aid in 1985.
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