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Hurray For The Riff Raff: Five Essential Lou Reed Songs

Alynda Segarra of Hurray for the Riff Raff (photo courtesy of Shore Fire Media, PR)

Alynda Segarra of Hurray for the Riff Raff (photo courtesy of Shore Fire Media, PR)


Born and raised in the Bronx, Hurray for the Riff Raff's Alynda Segarra found her early punk and roots rock voice on Manhattan's Lower East Side and then, at 17, made her way to New Orleans. A self-described street kid, her 2017 album, The Navigator (released March 10), is an arresting cycle of songs that follows the journey of a semi-autobiographical character, Navita Milagros Negrón. As Segarra writes in a Facebook post, "The Navigator is an inner navigator who will guide us through this uncertain future. It's time to listen."

There's an unflinching candor in Segarra's songs, like "Rican Beach," which is dedicated to protesters asking for clean water and ancestral respect at Standing Rock, North Dakota and Peñuelas, Puerto Rico. She doesn't skirt from politics or activism. The complexity of her characters and her adroit storytelling, from the sharp perspective of a native New Yorker, traverses a similarly socially outspoken, urban path as Lou Reed, this week's FUV Essentials artist.

Segarra has found inspiration in Reed's fearless lyricism, as she eloquently writes in her "Five Essential Lou Reed Songs."

Hurray for the Riff Raff: Five Essential Lou Reed Songs:

"Pale Blue Eyes," The Velvet Underground (1969)
"Thought of you as everything I've had but couldn't keep." One of the most honest love songs of all time. The lyrics are dirty and confusing while also naive and sweet. The most memorable line is the nod to sleeping with a married person, which reminds us there is purity even in the most contemptible acts. Lou Reed has always embodied this idea to me: that there is beauty in ugliness. He reminds us of who we are when the nighttime comes around. He captured the beauty of those who live in sin without shame. He wrote about the underground that we all frequent, but most go in disguise. Each song brings the opium dens, the dungeons, and the humanity along.

"Walk on the Wild Side," Transformer (1972)
Welcome to my adolescence. Whenever I hear this song I'm transported to Tompkins Square Park, where I drank fortified wine out of a paper bag next to old Polish men playing chess. Where young runaways did their drugs and laundry in the public bathroom. Where veterans slept on park benches and got tickets for loitering. Where drag queens fought like boxers and young girls were the best escape artists. Where the projects and the rich white kids met. There is no song that better explains the city than this one.

"Candy Says," The Velvet Underground (1969)
A song for anyone who has been outcasted for their gender identity, used for their body, and had to watch the blue birds fly in order to survive.

"Heroin," The Velvet Underground & Nico (1967)
A spiritual journey through song. As someone who has loved and lost addicts in my life, this song really speaks to me. Addicts don't suffer alone, everyone who loves them is chained to their suffering. We are just dragged along for the horrific ride, getting bruised all the way. This song speaks to the emptiness of American culture, the longing for a total escape that led so many brilliant people I know to heroin. The brutality of these lyrics is a mirror.

"Street Hassle," Street Hassle (1978)
A street opera in three movements, this epic speaks to Reed's work as a unapologetic storyteller. The soaring strings and the pounding cello make you feel like you're running from the law. The "Shalalala" refrain reminds you of the music Reed grew up with — teenage doo-wop love songs — and how truly far out he was for his time. The worn-in voice of Bruce Springsteen appears in the "Slipaway" section to remind us: "It's a painful song, a little sad truth, but life's full of sad songs.”

- Alynda Segarra of Hurray for the Riff Raff
February 2017

Read all of FUV's Five Essential Songs and Albums.