Blurred vision at the Beeb

Aunty's perfect day

Share
Related Topics
The switchboards of the BBC have been jammed recently, not with complaints, but with compliments. "Perfect Day", a promotional advertisement featuring 30 stars singing Lou Reed's ballad, is set to be an enormous hit. If negotiations are successful, the song will be released as a charity CD. A sure-fire number one, according to Radio 1. Quite right for a song that has resurfaced as a classic in a superb rendition and a stunning video. But why has Aunty Beeb chosen a song about heroin for an anthem?

Heroin isn't mentioned in "Perfect Day". The subject lurks in the sub- text, the lair of the interpreter. Of course, decoding song lyrics carries the danger of over-interpretation. But there's little doubt "Perfect Day" is about heroin. Many genres of music have their drug of influence. For reggae it is marijuana. For rave music it is ecstasy. Only once you have listened to Bob Marley when stoned does the lilt of reggae click into place. Listen to dance music when under the influence of MDMA and finally rave makes sense.

The link between heroin and the music of Lou Reed is well established. An essay in the International Journal of Drug Policy quotes one former heroin user who said he thought "Lou Reed was rubbish now that he had stopped using heroin".

On the surface "Perfect Day" is a bittersweet ballad about two lovers who spend a day together, drinking sangria in the park, at the zoo. That's the sweet bit; but the relationship here is as easily read as not the author's love for another person, but his connection to something equally transforming. The relationship in the song is fed by the push and draw of addiction. "You just keep me hanging on", sings Reed. The object of the singer's affections transforms him, but the change is temporary: "You made me forget myself. I thought I was someone else, someone good." The "you" in the song is heroin.

If you understand the lyrics of this song as only the story of two lovers, then the last line doesn't make much sense. "You're going to reap just what you sow". Who is the singer talking to? The lover? The listener? The lines make sense for the BBC as a curt little reminder of the virtue of the licence fee. If you understand the song as about drugs, it makes perfect sense.

Interpretation can always be pushed too far. But this song is not about transvestism, say, or electroshock therapy, the subjects of two of Reed's other songs, "Walk on the Wild Side" and "Kill Your Sons". It was no accident that this is the track used in Trainspotting when the lead character, Renton, overdoses on class A narcotics, but "Perfect Day" is not about heroin because it was used in Trainspotting. The song was used in Trainspotting because it is about heroin.

Okay, say "Perfect Day" isn't about heroin addiction. It's about two people who have a really nice day and the only sub-text is that they might have held hands. In that case, Ionesco's Rhinoceros is simply about people turning into pachyderms and Brazil is what film-maker Terry Gilliam thinks the future will actually be like (especially the hats).

Not that one has to be aware of the drug subtext to enjoy "Perfect Day". It is a great song, and the BBC has produced an astonishing video, and I agree with the message. It's a wonderful version of a wonderful track. I'll be among the first to buy it. Jane Frost, head of corporate and brand marketing at the BBC, who was among those who chose the song, insists "this song has nothing to do with drug use". The point is, this song expresses more about drug use than it does about the fact that an organisation like the BBC should be funded by a system like the licence fee. "Perfect Day" is too good a song to be reduced to the status of a strapline. To throw Reed's words back at the BBC's marketing team, "you're going to reap just what you sow".

The writer is media editor of `Wallpaper' magazine.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

PA / Team Secretary - Wimbledon

£28000 - £32000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: PA / Team Secretary - Mat...

Mechanical Lead

£65000 - £75000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: Mechanical L...

Nursery Nurse

£8 per day: Randstad Education Manchester: Nursery Nurse The Nursery Nurse wi...

Primary Supply Teachers Required

£121 - £142 per day: Randstad Education Luton: primary teacher Hertfordshire

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Fist bumps will never replace the handshake - we're just not cool enough

Jessica Brown Jessica Brown
The children were playing in the street with toy guns. The air strikes were tragically real

The air strikes were tragically real

The children were playing in the street with toy guns
Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite – The British, as others see us

Britain as others see us

Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite
Countries that don’t survey their tigers risk losing them altogether

Countries that don’t survey their tigers risk losing them

Jonathon Porritt sounds the alarm
How did our legends really begin?

How did our legends really begin?

Applying the theory of evolution to the world's many mythologies
Watch out: Lambrusco is back on the menu

Lambrusco is back on the menu

Naff Seventies corner-shop staple is this year's Aperol Spritz
A new Russian revolution: Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc

A new Russian revolution

Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc
Eugene de Kock: Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

The debate rages in South Africa over whether Eugene de Kock should ever be released from jail
Standing my ground: If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?

Standing my ground

If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?
Commonwealth Games 2014: Dai Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

Welsh hurdler was World, European and Commonwealth champion, but then the injuries crept in
Israel-Gaza conflict: Secret report helps Israelis to hide facts

Patrick Cockburn: Secret report helps Israel to hide facts

The slickness of Israel's spokesmen is rooted in directions set down by pollster Frank Luntz
The man who dared to go on holiday

The man who dared to go on holiday

New York's mayor has taken a vacation - in a nation that has still to enforce paid leave, it caused quite a stir, reports Rupert Cornwell
Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business, from Sarah Millican to Marcus Brigstocke

Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business

For all those wanting to know how stand-ups keep standing, here are some of the best moments
The Guest List 2014: Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks

The Guest List 2014

Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks
Jokes on Hollywood: 'With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on'

Jokes on Hollywood

With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on