Lou Reed’s abysmal, 10 minute rock opera “Street Hassle” was first unleashed unto the public in 1978, on the album of the same name. Reed, who is typically captured in photographs in his shadowy dark clothes and hardened facial expressions, is often looked at by many as a true mythical being in the music world. The Long Island native and his friend John Cale are greatly responsible for the major transformation of the lo-fi rock and the punk movement in the late 70s and 80s. The Velvet Underground, nor their frontman, have never received their due credit in the rock and roll pantheon, but their presence and unconventional approach to music has lasting effects even seen today.
A steady theme throughout Reed’s career has been his portrayal of the so-called lowlifes and scum of America, and “Street Hassle” is the strongest representation of that. Once the haunting introduction music subsides somewhat, Reed introduces us to Waltzing Maltida, a woman looking to engage the services of a male prostitute. Despite the intensely gritty and realistic portrait that Reed paints of the surrounding street atmosphere, the two embark on a passionate love affair, showing that true love can exist even in chaos and even more telling, in strange terms.
After a simultaneously dark and stunning instrumental sequence, part two begins with the infamous line, “hey that cunts not breathing, I think she’s had too much.” And as you may have already guessed, takes an even deeper dive into eerie territory. Here Reed, in a roundabout way, gives some short philosophical statements regarding the everyday trials and tribulations of street life.
The truly remarkable aspect to this song is that it gives one the unmistakable feeling of listening to a short story put to music. The characters referenced in the song aren’t really people Reed is describing, but instead vignettes of overall concepts he wishes to impart onto the listener. Although these character concepts are distinct, they also maintain a peculiar everyman quality when one considers the situations they are involved in without the scenery attached. Without preaching, Reed manages to capture a myriad of subjects, such love, loss, death, and the metaphorical image of the street, which consists of an entire life of its own.