“Holly came from Miami F L A / Hitchhiked her way across the USA …”
Chances are fairly decent you’ve heard the rest of Lou Reed’s classic rock song, “Walk on the Wild Side,” at least once in your life, given it’s been all over the radio since its 1972 release and many artists have covered it since then.
Reed — the late singer, guitarist and songwriter for the Velvet Underground — was famous for tackling controversial subjects. So no one was likely surprised when “Holly” ended up plucking his eyebrows and shaving his legs during his “walk on the wild side” — and voila: “He was a she.”
But fast forward to 2017 — a year in which the transgender movement gains more steam every day — and suddenly Reed’s song is problematic. At least at one Canadian college.
See, when the Central Student Association at the University of Guelph in Ontario was distributing bus passes recently, an executive with the group chose “Walk on the Wild Side” for a music playlist that would lend a ’70s and ’80s “road trip” feel to the event, MRC-TV reported.
But apparently it was pointed out to the CSA that Reed’s song contains “transphobic lyrics,” MRC reported, so the college student group did what any upstanding college student group does these days: It apologized profusely and flew high a pro-transgender flag.
MRC reported that the group posted a statement on Facebook — which has since been taken down — saying “Walk on the Wild Side” was chosen for the playlist in “ignorance.”
“We now know the lyrics to this song are hurtful to our friends in the trans community and we’d like to unreservedly apologize for this error in judgement [sic],” the statement read, MRC reported.
More from MRC:
The student association also said they are “committed” to being more “mindful” of the music they play during events in the future, and suggested students attend a meeting to “discuss how we can create better playlists in the future” with songs that are “more inclusive.” […]
When an individual pointed out the song is considered revolutionary and one of the first to actually support transgender acceptance, the student union responded by saying the song is “understood to be transphobic” because it “devalues the experiences and identities of trans folks” and “minimizes the experiences of oppression” by talking about a person who transitioned by changing his appearance.
The opening lines of “Walk on the Wild Side” were inspired by Holly Woodlawn, a transgender actress who was part of famed artist Andy Warhol’s counter-cultural “Factory” — which Reed and the Velvet Underground were connected to as well.
Interestingly “Walk on the Wild Side” also contains overt sexual references, lyrics that discuss prostitution and drug use, as well as language that could be considered racist — and yet if any campaigns against the song for the aforementioned reasons were launched, they sure were unsuccessful.
Here’s the song. (Content warning: Potentially offensive subject matter):
MRC said the student association included the following observation: “Additionally, stating that conversing, spending time with, or having sex with a trans person is ‘taking a walk on the wild side’ is also problematic. It labels trans folks as ‘wild’ or ‘unusual’ or ‘unnatural,’ which is a dangerous rhetoric.”
The CSA concluded, the outlet said, by saying that while “Walk on the Wild Side” promoted transgender acceptance long ago, “it is now being consumed in a different societal context” and is “not always consumed in the ways that it was intended.”
The student group also might want to contact the bevy of musical artists who’ve covered “Walk on the Wild Side” — including the Arctic Monkeys, the Strokes, Moby, Suzanne Vega, Joe Strummer from the Clash, G.Love & Special Sauce, the Waterboys, Living Colour and countless others — and let them know the rules of the game apparently have changed.