We came thisclose to losing the annual Greenwich Village Halloween Parade this year, but thankfully it was saved at the last minute. So before you head over there tonight, take a minute to listen to Lou Reed's song "Halloween Parade" from his 1989 album New York, one of his two or three most essential solo records.
It's a wonderful tribute to the event, and more so to the colorful characters who imbue it with life—five Cinderellas and some leather drags, the boys from Avenue B and the girls from Avenue D, a Tinkerbell in tights, Born Again Losers and the Lavender Boozers, and a girl from Soho with a teeshirt saying "I Blow." In a career filled with songs celebrating outsiders, Reed crafted his most vivid portrait with this tune—it's a bacchanalia of specificity.
It's also a gay pride anthem during a time in NYC when AIDS was ravaging the city and politicians were doing everything they could to not talk about it. And despite the chipper, minimal instrumentation and jolly, chanted outro, it's a song about loss (a topic which he would expand upon even further in his haunting follow-up album, Magic & Loss). "Halloween Parade" is a lamentation as much as a celebration, about all the people who should be there that won't anymore. AIDS is never referenced directly, but it's the monster lurking in the future, the thing that makes Reed "start to freeze"—which makes it all the more poignant when he notes the absence of Peter Pedantic, Johnny Rio and Rotten Rita.
Here's a very nice live version from 1989 in which Reed spells out the meaning: "This next song is about a parade we have in Greenwich Village in NY, where a lot of people are dying of AIDS. So this is a song about AIDS called 'Halloween Parade.'"
And here's Reed performing the song in a stripped down arrangement with wife Laurie Anderson in 2009: