Satellite of Love

The last man stepped off the Moon in December of 1972 and the space age ended. The ominous nights of Sputnik and Telstar, the luminous days of Soyuz and Apollo, were over. Yet the glam in glamor still out-glows Venus or Sirius (the diamond dog-star). We can catch a glimmer if we turn our gazes outward. Something is up there, just beyond sight, beyond understanding. Something glistens and chitters on the sidereal horizon. Sex-change in the sky -transgendered planetary crossings - the radiation of the occult spheres.

“I watched for a little while,” Lou Reed croons, like a junkie over his spoon, “I love to watch things on TV.”

Bowie saw it and knew it first. But it was Lou who gave it a name: the Satellite of Love. Lou Reed, late to glam, the most lurid and lucid of the seers, was the true voice of the celestial shine (one third heroin, one third mascara and one third high frequency spectra). “Satellite’s gone” Lou sings, both celebration and lamentation, “way up to Mars.”

Lou Reed’s move into the trans-orbital limelight came with his second solo album. Produced by David Bowie and Mick Ronson, Transformer gleams with some Ziggy Stardust fallout. The monster hit off the album was “Walk on the Wild Side.” With this, Lou managed to produce queasy-making titillation for the AM dial - with its fairy tales of cross-dressing speed-freaks and crystalline violet sweet tooth. What really pushed the tune to the top of the charts was the great and mysterious Herbie Flowers on bass (doubling electric and upright - he later claimed - so he’d get paid twice). The revelation, however, came with the second single off the second album.

This Satellite of Love is Sputnik after the secret operation. It’s Telstar with one last mysterious TV message to relay to earth. Lou put a sleazy man-woman transformer on the back of the album cover, forcing the obvious transvestite pun. This deflects attention from the far more important electromagnetic phenomenon - AC transformed into DC in order to power the cathode ray tube that was the heart of every TV.

In ‘73, soaking in the magic transmissions still had a televisonary aura - late night flicker, the mystic fuzz and flare - the warm hum and cooked-dust scent of vacuum tubes. The tiny disappearing dot in the center of the screen as it goes dead. Static fuzz and stereophonic buzz.

A year later Lou was the self-proclaimed Rock and Roll Animal, with black bondage leather and amphetamine twitchcraft. But on “Satellite of Love,” he’s the wide-eyed sky-dreamer. At first listen, the cut is just a charming bit of throwaway pop filler. The trannies and druggies from the earlier hit got all the attention. Now they’re banal clich├ęs. The light of metallic orbital orbs, however, blinking and beeping in the night sky, remains with us.

The ghost of Soviets’ first silver ovum-in-orbit still circles the globe with bright morning-star spikes, a medieval mace-head without the shaft. A steely ball of transistors and diodes, Sputnik spins in silent gyres. It transmits the crypto-hit-tunes, traveling around the earth, around our thoughts, like electrons around the nucleus which is the thinker of those thoughts.

The Soviet code name was Object D. But after launch in 1957, the satellite became Sputnik - the name meaning literally “traveling companion.” The word “satellite” too has a rich occult genealogy, signifying: minion, fan-boy, follower, acolyte, worshipper. In 1962, “Telstar” had thousands of devotees as a big radio hit: guitars, organ, and the sound of rocket engines instead of voices.

“Things like that,” Lou confessed ten years later, “drive me out of my mind.”

His “Satellite of Love” came together in its ecstatic four-chord coda. Silvery lounge piano, finger-snaps, horns added in layers and then Bowie’s fey background vocals. The gorgeous whoosh of his “Ahhhh!” - hitting a falsetto D above the operatic tenor’s high C. The gleeful “Ah - ooooh!” like a glorious gay werewolf howling at the artificial moon.


A. Treadway said...

Brilliant poetic insight into past psy-orbital mysticism. Wish I had written it.

A. Treadway said...

Reminds me of the awe-inspiring gyrations pop music makes as it spins out the shamans' messages from the beyond.