It’s been a long time since I’ve thought about The Velvet Underground. Too often, the band is thought of as the Lou Reed band. But that ain’t true. Like David Byrne after him, Reed got far more credit than he deserved. For example, take today’s song, “I’m Waiting for My Man.” It says on the album that it was written by Reed, but that’s not true. It was written by Reed along with Sterling Morrison and John Cale. In any discussion of anything that Lou Reed did, it is important to remember that Lou Reed was a total jerk. He never gave proper credit and insisted on keeping Doug Yule out of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Although I’m a fan of much of his work, I don’t think much of Lou Reed as a human being.
The remarkable thing about The Velvet Underground & Nico is that it was meant to be your typical Andy Warhol commercial joke. Yet it is a great album. Much of the songwriting on the album is great. But what sells it is the band, which is powerfully direct. Listen to “I’m Waiting for My Man.” It is stripped down to the barest that it can be without being boring. It doesn’t hurt that it is also one of the greatest rock songs ever written.
Please note: I don’t care what it says on the album cover. I don’t care what Reed might have sung in earlier versions. He is not waiting for “the man.” In the parlance of that time and even now, “the man” is the police. This is a friendly encounter. He’s waiting for his dealer who simply doesn’t have the reputation to be considered “the” man regardless. The most compelling part of the song occurs before the dealer shows up. The narrator is clearly in a place where he doesn’t belong and he has to explain himself to the locals, “I’m just waiting for a dear, dear friend of mine.” Very dear indeed.
There has never been a song written about drugs that is as authentic as, “I’m Waiting for My Man.”