18/10/17 – The Velvet Underground And Nico – The Black Angel’s Death Song – 1967

Although Lou Reed declared that the lyrics to The Black Angel’s Death Song were without meaning and were just about the sound of the words, it’s the closest that Lou Reed ever got to Bob Dylan with colourful language. Written in 1966 and released in 1967 – at this point Dylan was on his eighth album (John Wesley Harding). The Velvet Underground were releasing their debut and despite their lack of success, their difficulty in fitting into the era, their skill in being ignored, annoying, a noise and all other critiscisms of the day – this song sounds rather like a Dylan song and at this point Dylan was the toast of the critics and the public alike having reached No.9 in the US charts with Blonde On Blonde (No. 3 UK) in 1966.

Although John Cale’s screeching viola might have driven people mad, it really doesn’t sound so anarchic by today’s standards. But then the hissing might have been considered to be the sound of evil degenerates and after all the rest of the songs on the album were about unsavoury subjects such as drugs. Consequently they were completely missed – the dark beauty of some of the songs, the contrasts, the artiness, the Punk ethic, the edginess, they stood alone and all this in league with Andy Warhol, it’s a wonder they failed to make any impact – even the underground press missed them.

The Black Angel’s Death Song is one of two songs from that iconic debut co-written with John Cale (the other being Sunday Morning). All the other songs were Lou Reed compositions except European Sun credited to the whole band. If this was a lyrical stream of consciousness, dictated from Reed’s brain to paper, then it simply didn’t fit in with his social realism. Whatever you think of Lou Reed, he wanted to tell the truth as he saw it, from his own experience as an observation of his surroundings. If Reed didn’t take The Black Angel’s Death Song lyric seriously, check out the last link below to the Holocaust Visual Archive where the writer most certainly does.

[Verse 1]
Myriad had choice of his fate
Set themselves out upon a plate
For him to choose
What had he to lose?
Not a ghost bloodied country all covered with sleep
Where the Black Angel did weep not an old city street in the east
Gone to choose

[Verse 2]
And wandering’s brother walked on through the night
With his hair in his face on a long splintered cut from the knife
The rally man’s patter ran on through the dawn
Until we said so long to his skull
Shrill yell
Shining brightly red rimmed and red lined with the time
Infused with the choice of the mind on ice skates scraping chunks
From the bells

[Verse 3]
Cut mouth bleeding razors
Forgetting the pain
Antiseptic remains cool, good buy
So you fly
To the cozy brown snow of the east
Gonna choose, choose again

[Verse 4]
Sacrificials remain make it hard to forget
Where you come from the stools of your eyes
Serve to realize fame
Choose again
And Rovermans’ refrain of the sacrilege recluse
For the loss of a horse
With the bowels and a tail of a rat
Come again, choose to go

[Verse 5]
And if Epiphany’s terror reduced you to shame
Have your head bobbed and weaved
Choose a side
To be on
And if the stone glances off
Split didactics in two
Leave the color of the mouse trails
Don’t scream, try between
If you choose
If you choose, try to lose
For the loss of remain come and start
Start the game

I che che, che che I
Che che che, ka tah koh
Choose to choose
Choose to choose, choose to go



Lou Reed and the Holocaust/1: The Black Angel’s Death Song