“Satellites gone, up to the skies. Things like that drive me out of my mind.”

The lyrics are just nothing, almost impressionistic. But in Lou Reed’s delivery the words are full of cathartic sadness, regret & isolation. This is how satellites & technological changes used to make us feel. What they would do to our human connectedness. What spying and tools in the wrong hands would do. And here we are.

My friend played this loud on Christmas Eve this year, very late, when it went through me like a beam with that wordless ache you can only get from your deepest estrangements at times of year like that.

None of us discussed why we were where we were that late night, vs. where we weren’t. Maybe they have unspoken mafia-like vows of silence too, a Big Brother in our brainwashing that is quaint, personally toxic, and out of step with the times.

Instead, we listened and turned to other things the holidays mean to some of us. I had a remarkable deep sharing with a new friend about our feelings for Gord Downie that left me feeling stripped inside, as she didn’t stay long and it was revelatory for me to speak and to be heard and to hear. It always is. I think we were both relieved to find each others’ feelings & knowledge of his life-changing poetics was true and simpatico (and not those of the musical tourists of a season in that artist’s terminal brain cancer diagnosis who gets their art & news from the TV.)

All these musical dads we claim. All this deeper-than-Christmas-cliche real music. Bowie’s “pum pum pum” a gentler, better version of his Christmas song playing everywhere else. (But of course, only Bowie could take one of the foulest Xmas songs, “Little Drummer Boy”, and make it transcendent.)

“Satellite of Love” meant one thing to me that lonely Christmas Eve in a string of the same and a different thing today moving away from that hopeless disaster, one where I understand how fixedly we’ve allowed social media to corrupt real life in those situations & particular close relationships of your origins that (can) only exist person to person and are too fragile & rusty for technological intervention, and now, it just consoles me, rather than making me want anything different (anymore).

Those satellites have been up there for decades and we don’t even question their use or usefulness anymore. Rather, we think they are there for our convenience, to send signals & messages around to each other that are by and large, utter shit.

We don’t even worry that they’ll fall from the sky upon us anymore, only that their signals we’ve been conditioned to think are a handy & entertaining lifeline, will go down and interrupt our diversions. Our hate and our love messages. Our written work and art and music and experiences & accomplishments we pretend are real inside a unreal virtual non-world. Our lot.

And if Lou Reed didn’t have this all sussed out in fucking 1972, his vocal alone is artful enough to make it seem predictive, to withstand my projection that serves my argument (a gimmick that is all that writing, whether clever, poor, horrendous, blunt or artfully obscured, EVER is) and to illustrate such points. It’s a treasure. I wouldn’t know this record existed as a kid until some other musical genius of my time name dropped him and I bought this record. I had one friend, a bit younger, from another neighbourhood and social milieu, gifted, who showed me the world of The Velvet Underground at 16. That must have been it. It certainly didn’t exist in my home or that of my friends or in our local micro world of a few streets, a village inside a huge city. We had no older siblings of great taste to lead us, to steal from. We had only the young (just over legal age) manager of a store we worked in who’d buy us our Peach Schnapps by the 26er for our aimless parties, lend us cool records, & who trusted us with both things. He would die, a young father, at age 36 of brain cancer.

Is the lack of cool & important music (Art) or even money of my middle class youth “impoverishment?” I suppose it is, of a very specific & elitist kind. If one wanted to be pretentious & precious about it. And I don’t. And I’m not. Parents are not supposed to give you Lou Reed or their ideas of art & culture or even a map or connections but more basic things & perhaps consistency. That is all. That is a lot. That is sometimes too much to ask. By the time you find Lou Reed & what 1972 really was outside of your suburbia (12 years later, in my case) you are your own navigator, Captain. Even if you’re a cruel and pouty teenager full of real and legitimate angst you can’t name, of misdirected gifts that will fire and misfire and never land, of invisible (to yourself) beauty that will be long gone before you have the good sense to try to see it, use it, photograph it, miss it, or even mourn it. But them’s the breaks. You own each mistake & choice cause you now have your part time job, your private life, your own dysfunctional boyfriends & misfit friends, your tricks and tools, your own music and so, as many maps as you’ll ever need to soar or sink in life. Parenting has wrapped and you are on borrowed time and the cracks can only spread so far. Get moving.

Christmas, whatever it is or isn’t anymore, is a distant memory at this time of year, late March. All I remember, now, was this moment. The rest was survived and forgettable, as usual. “Satellite of Love”. Safety in a bubble we pay for but one that is real. Everything is conditional. You may be better received, better loved, better held aloft in your “Local” than in your family home. And the social contracts we make outside the home, the realm, the dictatorship have real rules that are easy to learn & follow; we pay our bill and we leave and we had a good time and we may have friends (even) back there who thought well of us then and there and later, too. Friends are the families we make from the broken crockery; out of the careless violence and doors slammed so satisfyingly all the way up to the foundation til it has to be reframed and that’s OK, that’s acceptable, that’s someone’s project. Slam that door for years-just don’t ask to be understood if you somehow move your cognitive abilities out of The Stone Age and want to have a civilized chat instead of shaking the foundations in the fiefdom. That’s what neutral spaces and other cities and countries are for, bar stools and music venue barriers, world stages or invented communities of varying worthiness. None of us are who we were once we step off that curb of home, maybe. And thank god for it. But it’s necessarily a one way trip for some of us.

I’m a satellite too, we all are.

I’ve just rebought this record that took a walk like most of my youthful collection did or books I had put down while I was reading them, or items I valued, or my own shoes, from within the home by the light fingers of a younger sibling. Back then I did not notice or care about this song at all (shocking, for I certainly could have used it) nor did I until Christmas Eve of 2016. I knew or cared not about David Bowie’s essential involvement in this piece of art, or even his perfect, subtle, iconic, angelic backing vocal.

But both men always seemed like the toughest and most glowy characters in the sky, who then ruled as outsider artists, who would always be here to explain life to us (and experience it for us in risky, exciting ways that only rare artists do). We got them through osmosis, pre-internet. From hashed together clips of beautifully low-res video tape on a Music TV network, our very own, Canadian, superior even, then run by visionary geniuses. And they are now all gone. Bowie, Lou, the visionary geniuses, the music TV. All dead the usual way: from living.

I was so ignorant when I got Transformer at 16 that I cared only for “Walk on The Wild Side”, which had my name in it, and which I still love. I loved to sing both lead and backing vocals. I loved the part about Jackie best. “Thought she was James Dean for a day”. What could be cooler? Even for a day. My shortened name, which I hated, was cool enough to be in this song by someone who knew the good bad ugly artistic bleak perfect and fleeting Lower East Side I would only ever visit as a tourist, forever just a Canadian and always just too late. Nostalgic and full of loss. Toronto itself largely a desperate mimicry of Manhattan then as now – but there was another Jackie, even for just a day. And she had that cursed air of potential just like me. She lightly touched Andy as she shimmered through the Factory and made him laugh for real or maybe she got beat beyond recognition in a drug buy but by god she earned Lou’s acclaim and she lives forever. I fucking loved her.

This was long before “Perfect Day” would become forever fused with Trainspotting, creating a perfect cue for EVERYTHING that book/ movie was trying to teach us about modern life- of feeling people’s search for purpose, rejection of available bad options & necessary escapism for the rootless immobile poor. Or for the emotionally impoverished. Or for the alienated outcast. The freak, the weirdo, the labeled by others who are compelled or mandated or lie about their natural abilities to love them “ridiculous”. The music took new flight, annoying older (cool) people from the first wave of Lou Reed’s Transformer and a lot more from 1972, probably, but still and all, SAVING ME AND AN ENTIRE GENERATION AND OUR WORLD from the fascism of narrow little minds. In 1987. In 1997. And even in the micro, macro, binary, cellular, cardiovascular, genealogical, political, tabloid, Facefuckingbook fuckery of 2017.

Today you can send a satellite message out and you can reach people who understand you and accept you. It can even reach the elusive subjects of a love letter, the only ones worthy of such a thing: heroic musicians and artists who survive, live and create. You might even, impossibly, know someone who knew well the demigods up in the sky, the ones who continue forth; the people who knew best the visionary who put Bowie and Lou before our very suburban eyes on TV. Imagine that communication payload. Remember that-the wild world is, despite our trend to dystopia, too full of promise to get stuck on a loop slamming an old bedroom door with only that unique blunt sharpness and echoing thud your answer to your pain that is otherwise a non-issue and a bore, even if sometimes there’s an added frisson to the routine created by starting your very own deep, and surely, foundational crack. The Space Race is over now.

“Satellite of Love” : how would that work?

Jacqueline Howell

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