While there are many alternative interpretations of this song, it seems to be the case that Lou Reed was merely describing the effects of the drug, while neither condemning it nor condoning it. It might have been done merely for shock value, or because Reed liked gritty subjects, or as a dark poem of addiction; the beauty of this song is that it works on all of these levels, and many more, at the same time. In many of his songs, we have cases where Lou Reed kept the focus on providing an objective description of the topic without taking a moral stance on the matter.
For the record, Lou Reed spoke of the meaning of some of his songs in a 1971 interview with creem magazine: "I meant those songs to sort of exorcise the darkness, or the self-destructive element in me, and hoped other people would take them the same way. But when I saw how people were responding to them, it was disturbing. Because, like, people would come up and say, 'I shot up to 'Heroin,' things like that. For a while, I was even thinking that some of my songs might have contributed formatively to the consciousness of all these addictions and things going down with the kids today. But I don't think that anymore; it's really too awful a thing to consider."
Lou Reed wrote "Heroin" while attending Syracuse University - he would have been close to the age of 18. During his attendance, he also played guitar with several bar bands and hosted his own radio show on campus, in which he featured the works of various jazz and R&B legends. According to The Velvet Underground: An Illustrated History of a Walk on the Wild Side, Reed would amuse himself by using his electric guitar to blast screeches at the marching ROTC cadets on the green outside his dorm window, an act that impressed his new friend Sterling Morrison.
Also according to the above-mentioned biography, an original acetate recording of The Velvet Underground & Nico, including this song, was discovered at a yard sale in 2006. One Warren Hill, street-shopping along Chelsea Street in New York City, spotted the find. It was later verified to be the recording made at their first session at Scepter Studios under producer Norman Dolph. Hill bought the acetate for seventy-five cents. He later sold it on eBay for $25,000.
The unique screeching, droning viola sound in this and other early Velvet Underground songs was produced by bassist John Cale, a classically trained violist, playing an electric viola with three guitar strings, a cello bow and plenty of feedback. This preceded The Creation, who were the first to play a guitar with a cello bow in 1966. Few other bands exploited feedback and noise to the same degree as the Velvet Underground until the noise-rock scene developed in the 1980s.
Suggestion credit: Caleb - Christchurch, New Zealand
"To this day I could kill the rest of the band," Tucker told Prism Films while discussing "Heroin." She said it with a smile.
Tucker explained that, though most people don't notice, her drums stop in the middle of the song - it happens around the 5:20 mark. That's because Tucker couldn't hear anything once the song picked up and got loud. So Tucker stopped, assuming the rest of the band would do the same to ask her what was wrong. No one else stopped, though, and Tucker was forced to simply jump back in mid-track. "Having that on the record just kills me."
The line, "And I feel just like Jesus' son" provided the title for Denis Johnson's short story collection Jesus' Son, which was made into a movie in 1999.
The song appears in the Oliver Stone movie The Doors.
Suggestion credit: Bertrand - Paris, France, for above 2
Weezer's Brian Bell and Patrick Wilson covered this when they portrayed Lou Reed and John Cale, respectively, in the Edie Sedgwick biopic Factory Girl (2006).
Before forming The Pretenders, Chrissie Hynde was a music journalist, and one of her subjects was The Velvet Underground. Here's what she wrote about this song as part of a review for their 1969 Live album:
"'Heroin', long before it was the hip thing to yell out at a Reed gig, used to shake up the audience every time. I mean here you are, some cheerleader with your jock boyfriend, straying into some daring night club behind your parents' backs, and this guy's singing 'When the blood shoots up the dropper's neck and I'm coasting in on death,' and you're staring into your cherry coke thinking 'Omigod!'
What can I say, you having probably heard this song 200 times anyway. The nail file on the teeth ending - it's all here."
Derek from Pittsburgh, PaThe live versions of these songs are amazing. Check out the two on 1969: Live, the one on Bataclan 72, the one on the Bootleg Series, the two on Caught Between the Twisted Stars, the one at La Cave 1968, and the one on Live MCMXCIII, as well as the one at the Springfield concert (pardon the quality), and of course both the mono and stereo versions of the studio recording.
Rick from Brooklyn, Ny, NyJim jims in this town might/might not be a reference to African Americans. Lou had some problems there.
Jim from Long Beach, Cathis sog is so ahead of it's time. The subject matter for one..
Mike from Matawan, NjThere's no contest. The version Lou Reed does on Rock and Roll Animal s--ttes all over this version. AMAZING guitar work.
Sam from Chicago, IlRinging in your ears? Are you thinking of Nitris? And, to me when he is singing Heroin will be the death of me.... it would mean that when you get done shooting up you don't have a care in the world and the noise to me relates to the chase to get the drug notice how the tempo of the song changes once it mentions that its been consumed.
Isaac from Denver, CoIf you're a Velvet Underground fan, you should know that Lou Reed writes about "dark" things, and never seems to mention whether he is for or against it.
Nady from Adelaide, AustraliaWhen he talks about "all the Jim-Jim's in this town" what des he mean??? As in Jim Morrison or what???
Nady from Adelaide, AustraliaThis song makes me cry. It's very intense I love it
Kellen from Chicago, Ilthis song is amazing, so much feeling-it's absolutely phenomenal.
Francia from Caracas, --Heroin is one of my favorite songs of all times... It's so amazing, the feelings that you get while hearing this,just a wonderful piece of art by the even more amazing Velvet Underground
Paige from Houston, TxHey, I agree with Sheeberson -- this song doesn't condemn the use of heroin at all. When Reed sings "heroin... be the death of me", he doesn't sound bitter or angry; honestly, his tone feels almost accepting, as if that's just another part of being a heroin user. Plus, he mentions a lot of the highs (feeling "just like jesus' son" while he's "rushing on his run"). It's not PRO-heroin, but it's not against it AT ALL.
Nathan from From The Country Of, Canadato maybe answer paul in Cinci...one theory that applies is the chalkboard theory, that many milenia ago we were hunters of and hunted by baboons and the chalkboard is very close to their screech calls, and has been passed down most likely by RNA, just a thought. Anyways phenomenal song from a rediculously underappreciated 60's band.
Sheeberson from Wrightsville Beach, Ncnow wait wait wait, this song doesnt talk about the EVILS of heroin usage. it may not support it, but it certainly does not condemn it
Melissa from Newtown, Pasuch a meloncholy song
Joe from Perth, Australiai feel just like jesus'son, what a line
Paul from Cincinnati, OhUm, I somewhat take that back...I listened to it again and enjoyed it more. The noise on this song is actually used constructively as opposed to the noise on "Run Run Run" on the same album. On that song, you'd be advised to put your fingers in your ears to avoid the abuse from the feedback.
Paul from Cincinnati, OhThis song is too noisy for me to enjoy it, but the combination of the words, the tempo changes and the noise do paint a vivid picture...you do kind of wish that it could stay as pretty as it is at the beginning though. Or I do anyway...I'm very sensitive and obsessive about hearing damage. Question: Do you think that noisy or abrasive sounds at the same volume as other more pleasant sounds actually cause more hearing damage or do you think theyre simply unpleasant but ultimately harmless?
Tom from Dublin, IrelandThe premiere theme of this song is not heroin but escapism of the city & all the "evils of this town" when he takes heroin he's not aware or doesn't care about all the "politicians making crazy sounds,and everybody putting everybody else down,all the dead bodies lying up on mounds"...He wishes "that he was born a 1000 years ago" away from the dump the city of new york is...
Patrick from Pittsburgh, PaThis song has yet to bore me
Michael from Oakville, Canada...when the smack begins to flow... and now we are increasing the tempo... and I'm closing in on death... faster and faster... YEAH.... better than orgasmic in nature, just when, 7 or 8 seconds after you press the syringe down, the smack hits the brain and you feel that you are better off than death...
Reed describes the feeling perfectly, in a way that only those who have done it can understand. The not caring about death... the not caring about the politicans' crazy sounds... the rush... It's my wife and it's my life... and then I am better off then death. This song really is a classic. It may be 25 years ago that I last shot up smack but this brings is back like it was yesterday.
Michael from Oakville, CanadaThis is one of the greatest drug songs of all time. And the bonus is that listening to "Heroin" is much better than taking it. Healthier, too.
Ric from Baltimore, MdActually Opiate use can cause a constant ringing in the ears. You may have hear Rush Limbaugh having this problem.
Also, whenever you are in heavy Opiates your ears are really sensitive to noise. Someone talking at a normal tone can seem very loud.
Ruben Rodriguez from Miami, FlI'm pretty sure it's a viola not a violin
Someone from SomewhereNo, you don't hear a ringing noise when you're high on heroin or other opiates, but many people say that they hear a "metallic" sound when they smoke crack or inject cocaine...
Great song, by the way!
Cameron from Irvine, CaI've heard alot of versions of this song, but the original takes the cake.
Stefanie from Rock Hill, ScIf the ringing noise is a violin, then i'm not surprised.
Rudi from Uk, Englandheroin that gives you a constant ringing sound? do you have different heroin in rome??!?!?!?!?
Victoria from Gaithersburg, MdHope Sandoval from Mazzy Star redid this song. In somes ways, I like her version somewhat even better--but V.U.'s is the orginal of course and should be treated superior. Good song
Warrinder from A Town, CanadaThat constant ringing and the loud, crazy, horrible noise at the end is a violan played by John Cale.
Commie from Rome, GaThe constant ringing noise that is heard throughout the song is heard while high on the drug.
Stefanie from Rock Hill, ScI like this song too Iara. I like the tempo changes.
Orangebeaker from Edinburgh, ScotlandThis song describes the feeling a heroin addict gets when he gets another hit. The tempo of the song changes as the heroin is injected and starts to circulate the body.