We never thought that anything could destroy his beautiful wickedness,
but it turns out that Lou Reed was mortal after all.
1960s: Cool, handsome black leather swagger, shades all the time,
swigging a bottle of Coca Cola in his Warhol screen test, flickering
black and white films of the Velvet Underground jamming at the Factory– slightly sped-up, silent. Staring at Nico. Light shows at the
Electric Circus. Exploding Plastic Inevitable. ‘Peel slowly and see.’
Lou came into our safe suburban teenage bedrooms singing about sick things we never dreamed of. We were the few who invited him in, because we wanted something real. We were sick of love songs. Lou wrote hate songs. He took us down dark alleys to drug dens and squalid rooms. Lou Reed showed us the wonders of the underworld – the ultimate reality show. His songs were peep shows into secret forbidden places and their inhabitants; hustlers, prostitutes, junkies and transvestites. He taught us all about decadence.
Our subterranean sleuth illuminated a time when New York City was gritty, seedy dangerous and genuine. The good old days. He enlightened us to gender bending and hustling. He lived it all himself. An equal opportunity guy, Lou had relationships with men, women and trannies. An advocate for deviants and the downtrodden, Lou gave a voice to those who were never heard before. He showed us people just like ourselves, but although they were underground, they were in no way beneath us. We could easily become them.
His words and two-chord guitar on ‘Heroin’ – especially live – sped
through our veins, climaxed, then released. ‘It’s my wife and it’s my
life.’ We could actually feel the amphetamine rush during ‘White
Light/White Heat’ whether we understood what it was or not. Then
there is the delicate beauty of ‘I’ll Be Your Mirror’, ‘Sunday Morning’
‘Pale Blue Eyes’ and ‘Candy Says’ about the heartbreaking life of the
beautiful Ms. Darling with the gorgeous innocent line, ‘I’m gonna watch the bluebirds fly over my shoulder.’
Then in 1972, Lou went solo, writing musical novellas with strange and often sad characters, some fictional and some real. Caroline and Jim, and the narrator of his creepy cabaret, Berlin. Warhol Factory friends Holly, Candy, Joe, Jackie and the Sugar Plum Fairy in the infamous ‘Walk On The Wild Side’.
Inspired by the Beat poets, he kept it simple. Few chords and few words that spoke volumes. Almost Haiku. He once said, ‘One chord is fine. Two chords are pushing it. Three chords and you’re into
jazz.’ Although Lou affected a detached narrative vocal style, he was
fully entrenched in his songs, and was truly intimate with the
characters. His voice was endearingly vulnerable at times.
1970s: Black eye makeup and nail polish, shiny black vinyl suits. A bit
glamorous, yet weird. The unholy trinity: Bowie, Lou and Iggy shot by Mick Rock. Doo da doo da doo doo da doo doo.’ ‘Vicious, you hit me with a flower’. Then, the most beautiful songs in the world, ’Satellite of Love’, ‘Perfect Day’ – Lou’s ode to heroin. ‘You made me forget myself – I wish I was someone else, someone good.’ The
chilling Berlin album – a haunting tale of human decay and
debauchery. Rock N’ Roll Animal. Becoming scarier. Emaciated and
drugged on-stage, tying off with the mic cord simulating a ‘Heroin’
injection. Iron Cross shaved into his cropped bleached blonde hair.
Visceral verbal battles with the press.
‘Street Hassle’ was Lou’s street opera. Classic. His brilliant stream
of consciousness stand-up comedy on the live album Take No Prisoners is priceless. ‘Fuck Radio Ethopia man, I’m Radio Brooklyn!’
Lou was always in search of the perfect note. He usually reached it
on-stage during ‘White Light/White Heat’, ‘Sister Ray’, ‘Waves of
Fear’, ‘Kill Your Sons’, ‘Strawman’ and several on Metal Machine Music. His glorious cacophony would break up to reveal that one note – a braying donkey, screeching brakes, a car crash. He would levitate in ecstasy when it came! The veins in his neck would bulge. His audiences sounded like a herd of wounded cows, or as if they were booing, but chants of Looooouuuuuu filled every venue he played.
Ironically, his influences were Bettye LaVette, Doc Pomous, Delmore Schwartz, Edgar Allan Poe, 1950s Doo Wop…somehow it doesn’t come out that way, but Lou did it his way. His life was saved by rock n’ roll. Andy Warhol was his idol and friend. On his tribute album, Songs For Drella, Lou wrote, ‘Andy said a lot of things, I stored them all away in my head. Sometimes when I can’t decide what I should do, I think what would Andy have said.’
But who was Lou Reed? A crazy cool, sarcastic genius who influenced thousands of lives across several generations. He had a bad rep for a nice guy. Rock n’ Roll Animal, Accidental Anthropologist, New York Punk, Author, Photographer, Grumpy Old Man, Tai Chi practitioner. His masterpiece is Berlin. His 20th and final solo album was Hudson River Wind Meditations (2007). He was finally at peace. Sha la la la babe -now he just slipped away. Hope he reached the kingdom.
Lou Reed. Legendary Heart. March 2, 1942 – October 27, 2013