And Now for Something Completely Different: Love (Pt. 1)

… a new series in which Toilet Guppies takes a look at the finest in popular music love balladry. First off is Lou Reed's classic Velvet Underground & Nico tune «I'll Be Your Mirror»:

I'll be your mirror
Reflect what you are, in case you don't know
I'll be the wind, the rain and the sunset
The light on your door to show that you're home

When you think the night has seen your mind
That inside you're twisted and unkind
Let me stand to show that you are blind
Please put down your hands
'Cause I see you

I find it hard to believe you don't know
The beauty that you are
But if you don't, let me be your eyes
A hand in your darkness, so you won't be afraid

When you think the night has seen your mind
That inside you're twisted and unkind
Let me stand to show that you are blind
Please put down your hands
'Cause I see you

I'll be your mirror
(Reflect what you are)
If we could read minds and see completely into the inner sanctum of other people's nekkid selves, piercing their very being without averting our gaze, chances are we'd be scared. Scared or bored. (Or ashamed, should they happen to be better than us—or worse than us, yet not quite frightening.)

I don't know if it was fearlessness, a perpetual sense of excitement or stupid pride that enabled him to do it, but Lou Reed managed to imagine such a scenario and still salvage a belief in love—and convince us, too, which is the real feat. Perhaps sensing some of the hopelessly broken parts inside the heart & mind of his main squeeze at the time, Nico, he sought to assure her he would not avert his eyes in fright, boredom or shame should she drop her guard and reveal her true nature to him. It wasn't long after this, however, that the German chanteuse abruptly ended their liaison by casually announcing, to the Velvet Underground during band rehearsal, something to the effect that she had gone off Jewish cock. (Or so the gossip mill goes.)

This ultimate come-back aside, «I'll Be Your Mirror» is an enduring song of love and support that rings just as true between real friends as it does between sincere lovers. (Tolerance and acceptance are not yet romantic love, so it may even work better that way.) It also stands out by being, despite the clunky rhymes of its poetry and its lack of eloquence, an intelligent love song, which would be a dying breed if it weren't already just a curious anomaly occurring at intervals so few and far between they're all but statistically insignificant. Fools rush in and write songs about love for other fools to rush in to. But this song doesn't promise anything wild and crazy like everlasting love, or resort to pompous imagery and metaphors. «I'll Be Your Mirror» is pure, simple—too straightforward and sincere for poetry.

When a love song falls flat on its face, by failing to achieve for the writer what he intended it to do, it loses credibility, threatening to take Love itself with it. But despite the failure of Reed and Nico's affair, you'd have to be deeply cynical—damaged, in fact (or simply not very tolerant)—to scoff at the message of «I'll Be Your Mirror».

Besides, Nico and Reed would sing this song again, together, many times. As evidenced by the rehearsal and live versions on this sampler:

1. The Velvet Underground & NicoFactory rehearsal
2. The Velvet Underground & Nico—alternate mix, from the Norman Dolph acetate
3. Lou Reed & Nico—hotel room tour rehearsal
4. Lou Reed, John Cale & Nico—live in concert
5. Atlas Sound—cover
6. Beck's Record Club—cover
In Norway, the most requested pop song by far at funerals is «Eg ser» («I See»). Bjørn Eidsvåg—the drunken, fornicating ex-priest who wrote the song—explained its popularity by reference to the fact that, in strife, what people want (or need) the most is simply to be seen. Recognition. In general, you could say it's the most basic psychological need for a mind.

Now, like you're not really crazy if you know you're crazy, you wouldn't be truly «twisted and unkind» if you were aware of it in your mind, and so the «mirror» Reed writes of will either show you that you're «twisted and unkind»—in which case you're not—or that you're not twisted and unkind. And so the mirror is the reason why love could be key, and could actually better a person. But that's not all.

Apparently inspired by Nico once telling Reed, «Let me be your mirror,» Reed set about writing this love song with its emphasis on non-judgment. That the song was intended for Nico—or that she had coined the phrase that inspired it in the first place—seems most fitting, seeing as Nico's music (The Marble Index in particular) does mirror any listener who has the fibre to not only hear but to properly listen to it. Acting as a mirror, her music gets as close as humanly possible to saying what cannot be said—to distilling and conveying what isolates each and every one of us from each and every other person, paradoxically almost transcending loneliness in the process, as if Nico's expression of the isolated nature of consciousness has carried us across the unbridgeable divide that separates us, by saying so completely and definitively, «I Am Alone»—the second most basic truth, unifying us all, following hot on the heels of that most fundamental human statement, the cogito ergo sum—until we realise that's like saying, «I Alone Am,» and we find ourselves back on our own distant shore again, staring over at someone equally alone, yet still isolated, only able to see them as a projected mirror image of our own hopelessly lonely selves.

Nico's mirror almost succeeds in transcending loneliness. «Almost,» because the mirror image doesn't bring the comfort to deliver us from our isolation. The comfort imagined by Reed. Reed, lacking the completely unflinching gaze of Nico, does not want to mirror the other person—unless his mirror is a fun house one, distorting the features (albeit favourably). Reed wishes to project the rose-tinted image of love he sees onto the other person, until even she sees that. Fair enough, and nice try, but Nico was no innocent school girl, starry-eyed and blind to the absolute difference dividing us.

The song goes, «I find it hard to believe you don't know the beauty you are.» Of course Lou Reed—being so familiar with loathing (self- or otherwise)—didn't find it hard to believe at all. But give him a break. Even he could be in love, and that's when your words go mad, delirious with loneliness like so many parched men in deserts spotting magnificent oases on the horizon.

«I'll Be Your Mirror» is a spark within this dark, and I'd never ridicule the sincere dream to which it (and most every one of us) aspires, but suffice it to say:

Mirror? Love is blind.

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