I just heard that Lou Reed passed away. There is going to be a lot said and written about him in the coming days, and much of it will probably more eloquently describe his legacy than I’ll be able to do here. That being said, on a personal level, Reed’s contributions to my life were enormous. I met him once, interviewed him on one other occasion, so I can’t say I knew him. But I KNEW him, you know? Just like many of you did. For those of you whose knowledge of his work doesn’t go much beyond “Walk On The Wild Side”, I urge to you to take this sad occasion to delve deeper into the large and varied catalog of his music. He was one of the most important and confrontational artists in the history of rock & roll.
It’s hard to believe how strange of an album that first Velvet Underground album was (The Velvet Underground And Nico, 1967). Released in the spring before “The Summer Of Love”, that record presented the underside of the hippy dream, rife with drugs, prostitutes, and general bleakness. It predated punk nihilism by a decade. Reed wrote or co-wrote all the songs. Fueled by the artful anarchy of his mentor Andy Warhol, Reed joyfully wrote and sang about all the unmentionables that New York City had to offer. His singing voice was unlike anything else… a monotone that oozed detachment and cool.
It was his solo career, however, that cemented his place in music history. From his David Bowie-produced hit album Transformer (that included “Walk On The Wild Side”, the funniest and most subversive song ever to hit the top 20) to his 1975 album of nothing but noise and hiss (Metal Machine Music) to his wonderful nod to his beloved home (the New York album, 1989) and beyond, Lou Reed challenged, changed, and confounded his fans and foes. I can remember buying his album Street Hassle in high school. I brought it home, put it on the turntable, listened all the way through, and just knew that I could never hear music the same ever again. It was scary and funny, often at the same time. I went back from there… the incredible sadness of the story and characters of Berlin; the druggy swagger of Coney Island Baby; his criminally underrated debut album.
And there’s this interview that I just saw for the first time a week or so ago… it’s from 1974 at the Sydney, Australia airport. I think it’s hilarious.
Back in ’06 we had the “885 Greatest Artists” countdown, and we all had to come up with our top 10’s. As much of a Stones fan as I am, as much as I adored The Clash, and Neil Young, and My Bloody Valentine, and Nirvana, Lou Reed was my choice for my favorite rock & roll artist of all time. I think he always will be, because he changed the way I think about music, and what you can say with your own individual talents. Plus, he was cool as hell. R.I.P., Uncle Lou…