Lou Reed’s “Take a walk on The Wild Side”

I can’t be the only one who’s ever wondered about this song, but a quick search of the archives turned up nothing.

What the hell is this song about, anyway?

Specifically, the lines “… looking for soul food and a place to eat. ” and “the colored girls sing- “doot da doot da doot….”

To be honest with you, I’d heard these lines before in that song but never gave it much thought. But today, sitting in traffic, I was struck with how seemingly racist some of the lyrics in that song seem to be.

Take the soul food sentence. Is he saying that soul food is inedible? And ‘colored’ girls? The song isn’t that old.

Is Lou pissed at blacks in this song or is it simply symbolic of something else? I’ll assume it’s symbolic, but of what?

I know there were other lines that stood out equally as odd, but I can’t remember the specifics.

What’s the dope behind this song?

I saw an explantion of it once so I can explain a few lines.

Much of it was inspired by the tranvsvestite and homosexual world around in New York at the time and refers to people that Lou Reed met and in a few cases knew quite well.

The chorus lines ‘… and the coloured girls…’ is not intended to be racist, he just couldn’t think of a chorus line so he thought about the backing vocalists of many groups and noticed that they often did not have lyrics as such, they were there simply to give the frontline singer a break and to provide in key tuneful rhythm backing.

‘Jackie’s just speeding away
Thought she was James Dean for a day,
But I guess she had to crash,
Valium whould have helped that best.’

Refers to the practice by tranvestites of taking amphetamines in order to burn off weight and keep a svelte figure but of course you can only do so much before you start having mental problems caused by hallucinations (amphetamine pshychosis) hence the crash. Valium was a way of coming down more easily.

Sugar Plum fairy was a real person.

At the moment I’m a little handicapped in the memory cells have been taken hostage by Samual Smith & Sons - purveyos of fine ales but if I can remember any more when I sober up I’ll get back to you.

The song makes several specific references to the Warhol factory of the late 60s and early 70s. This site might help:


Regarding the stanza in question, the site says:

“During the filming of My Hustler, Warhol and entourage stayed at the Sugar Plum Fairy’s house on Fire Island, where he spiked the crew’s food with acid. The Sugar Plum Fairy was a friend of Rotten Rita (another Warhol “superstar”), which by imputation implies that he was probably an amphetamine addict. The Apollo Theatre is a famous African-American theatre in Harlem, and the “Apollo” referred to in this verse is almost certainly this theatre. That’s all we know about the Sugar Plum Fairy.”

I have no idea how you came to interpret that line that way.

No, but he is recapturing an era (the late 60s) when that term was considered pretty inoffensive.

I can’t remember his real name right now (although I want to say Joe Campbell), but he was an ex-boyfriend of Harvey Milk’s. Milk was America’s first openly gay elected official. I believe Sugar Plum Fairy committed suicide not long after Milk’s assassination. I know all of this is covered in The Mayor of Castro Street, I just have to find my copy…

Oh, back to the song, I though the line was “Looking for soul food and a place to sleep.”

casdave is on target.

In the line “… looking for soul food and a place to eat. ” soul food refers to to the protagonist’s quest for whatever sort of stimulation warms a tranny’s heart. I believe “…and a place to eat.” was added to make sure you got the meaning of soul food. “Eat” may ot may not have had a sexual connotation.

And the lyrics go:

[note: full lyrics deleted. -manhattan]

sugaree, in the future, please just post those lyrics necessary to make a point. While we can reprint copyrighted lyrics for “scholarly purposes,” that is, to analyze them, we are prohibited from just blasting them out there.



[Edited by manhattan on 12-06-2000 at 07:49 PM]

Holly is Holly Woodlawn, Candy was Candy Darling, Little Joe
is Joe Dallesandro, Jackie is Jackie Curtis- drag queens all, except for Joe, the legendary hustler and portrayer of hustlers on film. I never did know who the Sugar Plum Fairy was until now. Thanks, guys!

Interesting for the little bit of info at the bottom



Don’t have it in your collection? GET IT!! As dark as it is brilliant. (Listening to it for the zillionth time right now, as a matter of fact). And the recording (on CD at least) is remarkable given the technical means at the time.

[end of slight OT]

Thanks for the replies.

ArchiveGuy “I have no idea how you came to interpret that line that way.”

Simple. I interpreted the line “Looking for soul food and a place to eat” as, ‘Looking for soul food and then a place to eat’, as if he’s trying to avoid soul food for some reason. I mean, Lou didn’t say, “looking for someplace to eat, looking for soul food.”, he put in a nonsensical line.

Granted, nit-picky and a bit of a stretch on my part, but he then goes on to say, “And the colored girls sing…”. I mean, come on, I can understand him saying he added words and changed them around to make it ‘flow’ better, but adding ‘and the colored girls go…’, because he couldn’t think of anything better? It seems like a strange coincidence given the other parts of the song.

Maybe I’m reading way to far into this. But I always thought you were suppose to overanalyze this kind of stuff. Read into it until it makes no sense at all. Instead, people are taking his word for it and saying “yeah, alright, why not”

I guess I thought there was more to it.

“Looking for soul food and a place to eat”
He is talking about getting take out soul food and also figuring out where to eat it

I was with a couple of friends in a cheap hotel in Amsterdam circa 1974 and it seemed like this song was the only thing on the jukebox. Somebody there played it over and over again.

I thought they brought back **manhattan **as a moderator there for a second.

Well, in the 17 years since this thread started a lot has changed on the 'Net. E.g., geocities is gone.

In 2010 a fine documentary on Candy Darling came out. It explains the “back room” where she was everyone’s darling as Max’ Kansas City’s back room where the Warhol crowd held court. Etc.

Was she a prostitute? Jeremiah Newton insisted she hadn’t been even though playback of his own old audio recordings indicated she was.

And now even Lou is gone.

So there are zombie transvestites? Rocky Horror meets Walking Dead, walking on the wild side?

I was dating a relatively naive teacher in the mid-80’s when this came on the car radio. I told her “I can’t believe they allowed the words “giving head” on the radio in the 1970’s!” Then I had to explain to her what it meant. She taught high school English - she said, “Oh, that’s why the class giggled at Robert Frost’s poem … ‘giving the horses head’.”

(She also put up an art poster of Judy Chicago’s “Dinner Party” in her classroom, until someone explained to her what it was about. Those were the days.)

Moved from GQ to Cafe Society, a forum that didn’t exist when this thread was started 17 years ago.

General Questions Moderator

I always dug the baritone saxophone solo played over the fadeout which was performed by Ronnie Ross. That and the Sonny Rollins sax solo on the Rolling Stones song, Waiting On A Friend, are my favorites in rock.

Wow, I never new that it was Sonny Rollins on Waiting On A Friend, and I love the solo, just like the whole song and of course Walk On The Wild Side.

My interpretation was that it was a misdirection joke: He’s going to find african american dick, and then get a meal. Kind of like a musician saying “Hello everyone I’m going to share this little number with you, and then I’m going to sing a song”

“Colored girls” sang on a huge percentage of pop hits back then. By almost everyone. And there are about half a dozen names that appeared constantly in that select group. It was not an obscure or difficult reference in Lou’s song, to me.