Certain Songs #982: Lou Reed – “Dime Store Mystery”

Album: New York
Year: 1989

If in “Doin’ The Things That We Want To,” Lou Reed referenced the films that his buddy Martin Scorcese made about New York, then it’s weirdy ironic that he closed his album about New York with a song about a film Marty made about a time and place far far away.

That film, of course, is The Last Temptation of Christ, Scorcese’s film that featured a controversial sequence where Jesus comes down from the cross and experiences an alternative reality as a normal man. You know, like that episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation where Picard gets hit by an energy beam from a probe and lives out the life of a guy named Kamin, but much less blasphemous.

Blasphemous, of course, it wasn’t, but the late 1980s were early days in the culture wars, and as a result, loads of Christian groups protested over the fact that Jesus and Mary Magdalene did the thing they wanted to — even though they were a married couple and therefore it should be OK — causing a controversy so huge that when Last Temptation of Christ came out on VHS, the owners of the video store I managed wouldn’t stock it. Not because they were religious in that sense, but because they didn’t want the hassle for a film that was only ever going to bring in a few hundred dollars.

Anyways, Lou tackled all of this — well, not the video store part — with “Dime Store Mystery,” showing an empathy for the suffering Jesus that none of his protesting followers could muster for a man who was being tortured to death.

The duality of nature, Godly nature
Human nature splits the soul
Fully human, fully divine and divided
The great immortal soul
Split into pieces, whirling pieces, opposites attract
From the front, the side, the back
The mind itself attacks

With Rob Wasserman bowing his bass guitar and Reed and Mike Rathke sending billowing chords towards the divine, “Dime Store Mystery” was also a set piece for the guest percussionist, one Maureen “Moe” Tucker, who Lou used to work with in a little band called The Velvet Underground.

This was a huge deal. Even though Moe was on majestic floor tom duty and not straight ahead forcebeat mode, it was still Moe Tucker playing on a Lou Reed song, and given that it surfaced 20 years later she was a Tea Partier (remember the Tea Party?), I now wonder if she even knew — or cared — what she was playing on.

I guess it doesn’t matter: given the various transgressive songs of the Velvets, Moe had probably turned off any part of her that would have been offended by his words a long time ago.

“Dime Store Mystery”

“Dime Store Mystery” performed live

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2 Responses to “Certain Songs #982: Lou Reed – “Dime Store Mystery””

  1. Ira Brooker says:

    I once read that this song was Lou’s first memorial to Andy Warhol, filtered through Scorcese/Jesus. I always found it a little heavy-handed before that, but for some reason thinking of Warhol as the Christ figure made it click a lot better for me.

    We’ve probably had this conversation before, but have you dug into Moe Tucker’s solo albums? I think they’re brilliant, especially “Life in Exile After Abdication” and “I Spent a Week There the Other Night,” the latter of which features the entire Velvets lineup and 2/3 of the original Violent Femmes. It’s always amazed me that it isn’t better known for that alone.

  2. Jim Connelly says:

    I definitely bought I Spent a Week There the Other Night and heard Playin’ Possum back in the day, but didn’t ever really get into them. That said, I should see if I had different ears for them now.