Rock and Roll Heaven

Modern Dance

Lou Reed brought me back to the time when I defined myself by music

Photograph by Redferns

On July 4, 2000, Lou Reed played a concert at the Cinerama in Tel Aviv. I was living in Jerusalem and there was no doubt that I'd go. Lou Reed brought me back to the time when I defined myself by music. As a teenager I liked alternative music, therefore I was alternative. I didn't understand that self-definitions like this were pretentious and limiting. I just knew I really liked "Sweet Jane."

I'd been dating my boyfriend for about a year and we were at a crossroads, trying to figure out if we should ditch or stick. Neither of us was particularly emotionally evolved — we were dating but we weren't best friends. I didn't go to that concert with him and now I can't even recall why.

I felt stifled by our relationship but I suspected that the problem was me, not him. Whenever I changed my schedule to accommodate him, I felt like I was betraying my feminist principles. Whenever I started thinking like a couple, it seemed like I was abandoning a deep need for self-expression. Whenever I was "giving" towards him, I felt as if I was sacrificing a part of myself. I was a real piece of work, insular and closed to love. But by that time, after years of avoiding relationships, I was starting to acknowledge this and I was working on it.

Lou Reed made me rethink it all. Watching this icon of my adolescence, and particularly the anti-establishment ethos he represented, I wondered why I was even in this relationship. Who says everyone has to be married, I thought. Why can't some people just be alone and do their thing and not have to make compromises?

Then he started singing "Modern Dance." It was the first time I'd heard the song and as often happens with Lou Reed, I felt like he was penetrating my soul. "Maybe I should go and live in Amsterdam," he sang, and in the next verse, "Maybe it's time to see Tangiers." Lou was contemplating going all over the place — wearing a kilt in Edinburgh, getting a farm in southern France, going to Yucatan "where women are women, a man's a man."

I felt as though Lou was validating my fears, telling me to trust the instinct in me that was resistant to being in a relationship, and that I could make the choice not to settle.

"And maybe you don't wanna be a wife," he sang. "It's not a life, being a wife."

Lou was right about all of it. I didn't want to be a wife. Even as a teenager, I considered the idea of not getting married. The institution didn't seem to offer women more than it took from them. So why was I even dating?

Then I remembered. I also didn't want to be alone. In my late twenties, I "put myself out there" in a very deliberate way because I understood I was going to end up alone. I didn't want that either. I didn't want to be alone but I didn't want to be a wife.

And in the song, which still makes me cry when I hear it, Lou raises his register and starts to sing with more urgency.

"Or maybe I should just learn a modern dance

where roles are shifting the modern dance

you never touch you don't know who you're with."

The song is about the need to search, but it's also about the alienation of constantly searching. I'd found someone who loved me and we worked well together and I was ready to throw it away for some youthful idea I had about myself as a completely independent person, an idea whose purpose had outlived its function. The man I was dating wasn't a 9-to-5 traditionalist ready to get me pregnant. He was a cursing, intelligent Welshman who'd played at CBGBs a few times with a band called Money Shot. He was a writer like me and, though we had our problems, we knew how to work on them together.

At the end of the song, Lou's voice is charged and frenetic:

"I should move to Pakistan, go to Afghanistan.

Dance, you don't know who you're with

Dance, modern dance

the roles are shifting dance

you never touch you don't know who you're with

Dance, modern dance

maybe you don't wanna be a wife

it's not a life, being a wife."

My boyfriend and I stayed together and didn't marry. Eight years later, we eloped for visa purposes. We had kids and I became more of a wife than I ever imagined I'd be. I give so much of myself, tap into resources I never even knew I had. But here's what I didn't realize back then — I get back so much.

As he sang in "Coney Island Baby," "The glory of love might see you through."

He was right.


Like us! Really like us!

Follow Purple Clover on Facebook