Chronicler of the wild side, Lou Reed, has died. Reed was particularly notable for students of human nature for his descriptions of drugs, madness and his own experience of psychiatry.
We’ve touched on his outrageous performance to the New York Society for Clinical Psychiatry before and his songs about or featuring drug use are legendary.
But there was one song that was particularly notable – not least for describing from his own experience of being ‘treated’ for homosexuality with electroshock therapy when he was a teenager.
Kill Your Sons, released in 1974 (audio), is just a straight-out attack on the psychiatrists that treated him:
All your two-bit psychiatrists
are giving you electroshock
They said, they’d let you live at home with mom and dad
instead of mental hospitals
But every time you tried to read a book
you couldn’t get to page 17
‘Cause you forgot where you were
so you couldn’t even read
Here Reed describes the effects on memory that are common just after electroconvulsive therapy. In this case, forgetting what you’ve just read.
The last verse also describes some of his other contacts with psychiatry, mentioning specific psychiatric clinics and medications:
Creedmore treated me very good
but Paine Whitney was even better
And when I flipped out on PHC
I was so sad, I didn’t even get a letter
All of the drugs, that we took
it really was lots of fun
But when they shoot you up with Thorazine on crystal smoke
you choke like a son of a gun
The last line seems to refer to the effect of being given a dopamine-inhibiting antipsychotic when you’re on a dopamine boosting amphetamine – presumably after being taken to a psychiatric clinic while still high. Not a pleasant comedown I would imagine.
I have no idea what ‘PHC’ refers to, though. I’m guessing it’s a psychiatric treatment from the 60s.
It’s interesting that the song was released the year after homosexuality was removed from the DSM in 1973, although it’s never been clear whether this was intentional on Reed’s part or not.
Link to YouTube audio of Kill Your Sons.