David Lang: “Heroin” (Lou Reed/The Velvet Underground Cover)

You certainly don’t need me to tell you what an important musician Lou Reed was and what an influence he was on the indie, alternative music scenes. Even if you didn’t have a strong connection to him or his music personally, you’ve seen tons of posts from all types of music, news, and culture publications over the past couple of days celebrating his work. Perhaps the most amazing thing I’ve noticed about all these posts is their variety. Songs of all decades of his long career are being shared and appreciated. Interviews and articles and stories, all showing the eclectic and wonderful life and work of this musician.

So, I also wanted to share something a bit different. “Heroin” is one of my favorite Velvet Underground songs. Released on their debut album The Velvet Underground & Nico, the song’s haunting imagery and hypnotic wash of guitar chords makes the track one of the most evocative pieces of late ’60s counter-culture. In 2007, Pulitzer Prize-winning composer David Lang composed an original piece of music to the text. Scored for solo cello and tenor, the piece stretches out even longer than the seven-minute original. Though the mood is very different from the jittery and anxious original, it is equally evocative. The cello drones on in repeated, languid arpeggios while the tenor’s melodies float on top, strung out and indifferent. The piece has a certain motionlessness to it, which is very different than the original, and it’s interesting to see the same text used in such a different way. It’s another testament to how important and enduring Reed’s work is.

The original recording, performed by tenor Theo Bleckmann and cellist Felix Fan, is available on Amazonmp3 or on Lang’s album Pierced

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