"I'm Waiting for the Man"
Recording: Live Bootleg, The Matrix, San Francisco, November 1969
Songs like "Heroin," "Sister Ray," and "I'm Waiting For The Man" gave the Velvet Underground a strong reputation for drug abuse and depravity, but close listening will make it hard to find any distinctly negative, sad, or angry tones in these songs. "I'm Waiting For The Man" in particular, although it is a song about an addict in search of his fix, proceeds through a story with wide-eyed wonder, a love for life that seeps into every aspect of experience, even that of drug addiction. "I’m feeling good, I feel oh so fine, until tomorrow, but that's just another time," says the narrator, dismissing the cycle of addiction to enjoy the pleasure of the present. The studio recording ends with the band pounding away at the song’s riff in ecstasy, as if its narrator had finally gotten what he wanted and was walking blissfully home as the journey stretched ahead of him and the buzz took hold. The joy, the peace, the bliss of "I'm Waiting For The Man" lends it to a number of different interpretations, to a famously stadium-sized cover by David Bowie to this particularly touching live rendition by the band at San Francisco’s Matrix. It’s an especially slow, long version, leisurely and bittersweet. Reed even improvises a mournfully whistled solo in its middle. It's a version that says, yes, this is a song about heroin addiction, but thank God I’m alive to enjoy it.