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The Feuerzeig Video Covers Project: “Lisa Says” (Velvet Underground, Live, 1969 Version)

6 May 2013

Why am I so shy? Oh tell me why am I so shy?
You know god times they just seem to pass me by.
Oh, why am I so shy?

As I sit in the Ford Econoline, looking at the little sliver of light in a sliding door singing the song for pedestrians who “are dancing and having such fun” (“Afterhours”), and feeling as isolated as in any “ivory tower,” it hit me that I am at least as shy as I was when 18, when I first heard the song. Shy? Some would call it “socially awkward,” or “socially uncomfortable,” or even “paranoid.” —but I think Lou puts it better: “if you’re looking for a good time Charlie, well that’s not really what I am.”

However rare they are, there are still a lot of those “good time Charlies” hanging around, even if they have to drink or medicate a lot to pull it off. Yet the singer of “Lisa Says” has something else going on: “Lisa says, you must be a funny kind of guy/ the way you’re always staring at the sky!” And when I heard that line, I realized something about Lou Reed and myself. He’s not just shy; he’s an introvert! In the original meaning of “introvert,” it’s not synonymous with “shy,” it’s inwardly directed, and, furthermore, this persona is so obviously a Pisces (“made up of mostly water,” as he puts it in “The Ocean,” another song from these sessions)—and so this song to me marks the creation of the persona of Lou Reed as Pisces Introspective Hero! And however much I could outgrow adolescent chastity, I found that I just can’t shake the introspective Pisces….

But what about Lisa? Of all the “says” women (or trannies), Caroline, Candy, Stephanie (and even the Lisa on the VU version of this song), Lisa is the most forward; she’s charmingly making the first move: “On a night like this, it’d be so night if you gave me a kiss.” She’s not just kissing the guy; she’s using words to get him to do it. And all her rebukes, that might seem nags to someone else, are not really judgmental; she’s just trying to get him to kiss her! When I got into Shakespeare years later, I realize she’s kind of like the Shakespearean comic heroine (Beatrice, Rosalind, Portia, etc) in that. I could easily fall for Lisa, and probably have a few times; sometimes she’s a tease, but sometimes she’s genuine!

One more thing about Lou and/or me: I used to always quip about the irony that here’s a guy (Lou) on stage singing a song with those lyrics about being so shy: “Well, at least he’s not so dreadfully, painfully, shy, that he can’t be up on stage singing “why I am so shy?” But, when I think about it, a lot of people who knew me, or think they knew me, as a “class clown,” or performance poet, or rambling verbaholic teacher, are surprised when I tell them I’m “shy” too (see the definition of introvert above)—for some people, it’s easier to talk to the world than it is to one particular person you’re attracted to…

That may also explain the dark sunglasses more than “the future’s so bright I got to wear shades,” and why Lou Reed abandoned the version of the song that emphasizes all the lyrics about the shyness (he could pull similar theme and music-hall feel off in a more campy way with Moe Tucker singing on “After Hours”), but for those who find Lou Reed usually to be “too cool” (if not quite as cool as Leonard Cohen), this may be one of his most honest songs.

After all, shyness is also a professional workaholic stance: some people like to go out dancing and other people they have to work—-just watch me now! (as one version of the “cool” rocker “Sweet Jane” puts it). It’s also the paradox of performing in a Ford Econoline. On one level, bringing music to the masses, or at least random people who would probably never hear these songs live in a smokeless bar, but on another level being very isolated…. as society becomes increasingly fragmented and privatized,

Whew! It makes me glad to hear that many others consider “Lisa Says,” the favorite of the videos of the cover songs that Jeff Feuerzeig and I have made. It’s what I call a comfort zone performance, on both a vocal and piano. It has a lower melodic range and I don’t have to strain the voice so much,—And the music hall middle seems tailor-made for piano…

Here’s the link to the video on YOUTUBE: