I’ve always thought of George W. Bush as the Lou Reed of Presidents. Well, maybe that isn’t quite true, though it would be if you substituted “never” for “always.” But it is true that when I heard about President Bush’s latest Supreme Court nominee, Lou Reed is who I thought of.
After his days in the Velvet Underground, Reed made a series of solo records that attracted a small but fanatical group of fans. Then in 1975 he released Metal Machine Music, an hour-long double album of nothing but unlistenable distortion and feedback—no lyrics, no melodies, just electronic noise. When his fans got over their shock at seeing their beloved proto-punk rocker, whose songs usually dealt with death and heroin addiction and sadomasochism, all of a sudden turning weird, their reaction to the record was just like the reaction of today’s Republicans to Harriet Miers: A few pretended to like it, some loyally tried to defend it, and others said that we’d all appreciate it a lot more in 10 or 20 years. But most Reed fans thought, and said, that it was terrible—which it was. (I base this on having heard 30 seconds’ worth, but those who have subjected themselves to the whole thing say 30 seconds is plenty.)
Three decades later that assessment still holds, except among hard-core devotees of experimental sound. But you know what? Lou Reed shrugged off the negative reaction, continued his solo career, and is now a widely respected and beloved elder statesman of rock ’n’ roll. Reed’s music is still widely played and enjoyed; if anything, his fan base has grown. (And as long as our bloggers are making nominations, I’ll propose him for the Nobel Prize.) Most of Reed’s fans from back in the day are willing to overlook Metal Machine Music, while his newer ones know it only by reputation. And I suspect that’s what will happen with Harriet Miers. However bizarre the choice may seem to the President’s supporters, in the end they will give him a pass and write her off as an unaccountable but temporary aberration. After all, that’s what fans are for.