“That’s The Story of My Life” (The Velvet Underground)

Lou Reed has only a pair of observations to make, and then repeats. First: “the story of my life” has been a moral one through and through, and its guiding thread is “the difference between wrong and right.” On the other hand, Billy Name (a key participant in La Monte Young’s Theatre of Eternal Music and Andy Warhol’s Factory scene) has clearly told Lou: “both those words are dead.” The world is now beyond right and wrong, or good and evil, as Nietzsche might say, and Billy and Lou are exploring superabundant life and the will to power in New York’s gay bars and with the help of methedrine. And that, too: “that’s the story of my life.” In short, the singer finds himself between two worlds, in two distinct historical contexts, and each acts as both a break with and an ongoing dialectical critique of the other. Relaxedly gliding between these moments in the ongoing history of nihilism, Reed’s vector points two ways and suggests that metaphysics has been weakened (but still has a part to play).


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“God” (John Lennon)

Somewhere between “All You Need is Love” (1967) and “Across the Universe” (1968), John Lennon converted from hippie to a man both harried and barricaded: the open advocacy of “love” for everyone transmuted into the defensive doctrine, “nothing’s gonna change my world.” (Bowie’s cover version of the latter on Young Americans appropriately encodes it as the ravings of a coke fiend). 1970s brooding, pained “God” takes this one step further and couples it with a strong dose of nihilism: a loss of faith in all kings, religions, and rock’n’roll, including the Beatles. All of these are now seen as myths and phantasms: “the dream is over.” But Lennon’s is an incomplete nihilism that continues to assert a Cartesian shot of truth with a splash of intersubjectivity: “I just believe in me, Yoko and me, and that’s reality.” Lennon here gets hung up on the same limit that has plagued all popular forms of nihilism: the “I.” Stuck with this seemingly ineluctable consciousness, nihilism never has a chance.


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“Candy” (Morphine)

Nihilism has strange contents: assertion of material, spatial self and desire to dominate. Can be read as misogynist joke (candy land as sexual bait) and as warning (sex as desert that promotes solipsism.) Dirge-like swooning suggests the world stuck in this circuit.


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