Certain Songs #980: Lou Reed – “Doin’ The Things That We Want To”

Album: New Sensations
Year: 1984

My favorite of all of Lou Reed’s solo songs, the utterly gorgeous “Doin’ The Things That We Want To” is a pean to artistic freedom that also slyly name-drops some of his famous friends in other mediums.

But it’s also more than that, which is insane, because artistic freedom is pretty much one of the two defining characteristics of Lou Reed, because in the ongoing repetition of variations of the title, I think he gets at a deeper truth about fandom and its relationship to the muse.

But first, let’s start off with the weird construction of that title. “Doing The Things We Want To Do,” would have felt more grammatically correct, and his choice to leave off that final “do” makes each time its sung feel just a bit incomplete, like there’s always more things just around the corner that we want to.

At first, “Doin’ The Things That We Want To” just Lou’s strummed guitar, with maybe a synth wailing on the background as he talks about seeing Sam Shephard’s play, Fool For Love, which had just opened off-Broadway. (And which he refers to throughout the song as “True Love,” probably because it scanned better. Doin the things that he wants to.)

The other night we went to see Sam’s play
Doin’ the things that we want to
It was very physical it held you to the stage
Doin’ the things that he wants to
Doin’ the things that he wants to

And just after the band kicks in, stately and anthemic, he now has a whole chorus repeating the title he pivots to another artist he loves:

It reminds me of the movies Marty
Made about New York
(Doin’ the things that we want to)
Those frank and brutal movies that are so brilliant
(Doin’ the things that we want to)

And then he introduces them to each other, and calls them inspirational, and it’s all right there: you can’t be an artist without being a fan. I mean, you can, of course you can. But I would argue that all of the greatest artists are also crazy fans of something, somewhere. And sometimes you just need to acknowledge that.

I wrote this song ’cause I’d like to shake your hand
(Doin’ the things that we want to)
In a way you guys are the best friends I ever had
(Doin’ the things that we want to)
Doin’ the things that we want to

Making art about fandom is a tricky thing. Making art about how being a fan is also a huge reason for making that art in the first place is even trickier. And I think that “Doin’ The Things That We Want To” navigates that trickiness by using other giants as both inspirations and peers while conflating his artistic freedom with theirs.

Doin’ the things that I want to.

“Doin The Things That We Want To”

“Doin’ The Things That We Want To” performed live in 1984

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