Lou Reed: 1942-2013

lou-reedJust last week I was out of town, and rescheduled another look at the three singles that changed my life. Number one was appropriately enough by Lou Reed; without whom, most of what I enjoy in music might not even exist. When the twin suns in my musical galaxy are Roxy Music and David Bowie, let’s not kid ourselves and pretend that without the appearance of The Velvet Underground in the mid sixties that either of them would exist in the forms that continued to send ripples throughout the world of music, even today. Without Reed’s trailblazing, Ferry and Bowie might have been cookie cutter R&B singers. It was Reed who took pop music from a teenaged frolic to express adult concerns. Sometimes bluntly. Often shockingly. Always unflinchingly.

It was up to Lou to think that dark adult concerns of beat poetry could be the stuff of rock music. When he met John Cale, who had reams of technique, and yet a healthy disdain of the academic, he met his partner to catapult his vision into the rock stratosphere. That their partnership was so volatile to last but for two albums only was enough. Those two albums have reverberated ever louder for over 45 years now and probably won’t stop vibrating any time soon.

Whole genres have been postulated from nooks and crannies of “The Velvet Underground + Nico” and “White Light/White Heat.” Klaus Dinger has cited The Shadows “Apache” as the origin of the motorik beat of Krautrock. I thinks that’s disingenuous at best. You, me, and the lamp post knows that ground zero for Krautock was “Sister Ray!” So in addition to Roxy Music and David Bowie, you had better add Kraftwerk and Neu! to that list of seminal influences who ultimately looked to Reed’s work for inspiration.

After those four, the list resembles a row of dominoes, waiting to fall. Sixty percent of my Record Cell are bands who wished they were Ferry, Bowie, and Kraftwerk! Ultravox. Human League. Simple Minds. And then there are the fourth generation of bands who wished that they were Ultravox! That’s just what happened by 1982! The seeds that Reed sowed artistically were sprouting like mad just 15 years later. The effect did not ebb with time. It multiplied.

It’s hard to believe now, but I only ever saw Reed twice. I missed my first chance to see Reed at the Bob Carr Auditorium on his “New Your, New York” tour in the late 80s. I was too smitten with 3rd and 4th generation “children of Reed” at the time to pay close attention to the elephant in the room. My loss. I was much wiser almost 20 years later when I saw that Lou Reed was playing in town for a gig at the Orange Peel on April 28, 2008. When I told my wife she could not believe that Reed was coming and we immediately made plans to attend. Lou had mellowed enough by his mid 50s to enjoy the concert as much as those in attendance. It was a good time that one could respect the morning after. Lou was grinning almost as much as his preternaturally happy guitarist Mike Rathke as they each coaxed a complex harmony out into the world.

Then again, Lou had just tied the knot with his long term partner Laurie Anderson, who was probably the right person for Reed at the right time. Teaming with a woman who was a strong artist in her own right probably did him a world of good. When my wife and I saw Ms. Anderson just a few weeks later at the Spoleto Festival, there was an empty chair on stage that evening and my wife told me “that’s where Lou Reed will come out and sit” and that was exactly what happened, with Reed joining his wife for two numbers in her “Homeland” set.

When I told my wife that Reed had just died yesterday evening, her eyes widened even though we’re aware that having a liver transplant is a last-ditch effort at best and at worst; it’s a cure that many would consider a punishment. While I quickly made room for the “Peel Slowly And See” boxed VU set, my Lou Reed collection is a handful or two of titles cherry picked from his 41 year solo career. I’ve got “Transformer,” “Berlin,” “New Sensations,” “New York,” “Songs For Drella,” and “Ecstasy.” A fair range of material, but there are large chunks missing with perhaps “Street Hassle,” “Magic + Loss,” and “The Blue Mask” pencilled in at the front of the line. Thankfully, I have the “Bis Ans Ende Der Welt” OST CD, which is the only place where the full monty 5:06 version of “What’s Good,” with the most majestic crescendoes of guitar ever committed to tape appears. I’ll be needing to listen to that as soon as possible, even as I began my day with a pre-dawn playback of the compulsive “Sister Ray.”

– 30 –

About postpunkmonk

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8 Responses to Lou Reed: 1942-2013

  1. Echorich says:

    I will tribute Mr. Reed with the music that so affected me throughout his career – Perfect Day, Sister Ray, Street Hassle, All Tomorrow’s Parties, Rock N Roll, Walk On The Wild Side, Satellite Of Love, I’m Waiting For The Man, White Light/White Heat, Make Up, Caroline Says… RIP Lou, say high to Jackie and Candy…

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  2. Taffy says:

    Hey Monk –
    cut and pasted from my facebook entry Sunday afternoon, if you’ll indulge me.

    earlier this year I was asked to do the Globe’s High Five column, and write about my five favorite gay rock songs. One was (of course) Walk On The Wild Side. I wrote…”A stone-cold classic, Lou’s tale of Warhol superstars and their respective journeys to NYC is both epic and intimate. This song acts as a perfect recruitment for punks, art freaks and degenerates to leave their empty hometowns in search of Manhattan glory.”
    When I started taking the commuter rail in from my suburban town to Grand Central, this song went through my mind. While I never found Warhol’s Factory, I discovered East Village punks, a scuzzy, gritty underbelly, a spiritual home, and people like me. Thanks, Lou.

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    • postpunkmonk says:

      Taffy – I’ll always indulge you! You make it a party. Thanks for sharing. I may not have hundreds of Lou Reed releases on the racks, but his primal importance, not only artistically, but even socially, as you point out, can’t be underestimated.

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      • Taffy says:

        Nor to diminish any of Lou’s releases (even the ones I find unlistenable!), but if I only had access to the four Velvets albums and Transformer I’d be a very happy man.

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        • postpunkmonk says:

          Taffy – I can’t say I’ve ever found any of his albums unlistenable. I only have ten or so due to the unavoidable fact that I’m cheap. I wait years to find used copies of anything that I want. Not the “Peel Slowly + See” box, though. I bought that new!

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    • Echorich says:

      Funny that you bring up searching out Warhol’s Factoy…I made it my mission the summer of my 16th year to search out all three of those hallowed spaces and was very successful. Now of course the first Factory location was torn down in ’68 to become an apartment building in midtown – east 47th street. Nothing would have given you the impression that this was the place where glamour seeking transvestites and transsexuals, pretty young men with little more than their good looks to get them by and artists of note and notariety would converge. This was the Silver Factory – filled with Warhol’s silver mylar balloons and famous red casting couch. I worked with Warhol/Velvet Underground photographer Nat Finklestein in the mid 80’s when I was sourcing images for the VU set and attempting to make Finklestein some money from photos which were literally just laying around on desks with dog slobber and dust accumulating on them.
      The Decker Building in Union Square was the famous one and really was a factory if you read anything Joe Dallesandro or Paul Morrissey have written. The Second Factory was a close walk to Warhol’s hangout of choice Max’s Kansas City where Warhol held court many nights out of the week and Debbie Harry waited tables. Union Square was part of my NYC playground as a teen and I was always aware of the fact that I could run into Warholites and would be Superstars. I spent an evening in the company of Holly Woodlawn – another story for another time – and she was happy for me to grill her for info on Jackie Curtis, Candy Darling, Reed and Warhol…no one tells the stories of those days better that Holly!
      The third and final Factory was up the street at 860 Broadway and took Warhol into the 80’s. Here there was more mystique than magic – possibly, but it was still the creative center for Warhol. Gone, for the most part were the films and Superstars, but the hangers on were always on hand. It was more of a bunker post Valerie Solanas’ attempted murder of Warhol at the Second Factory. A friend of mine rented the floor above the Third Factory after Warhol moved out as her photo studio for a few years, but by the late 80’s this was a prime location in the gentrification of the Flatiron District in Manhattan. The Factory was actually designers Stephen Sprouse’s studio right after Warhol closed The Factory.

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  3. Somewhat eerie that I finally picked up the CD versions of all those VU albums when we were in Atlanta …

    I’m trying to find time to post the hour-long tribute to Lou my friend Phantom Third Channel and I hosted on WPRK this past Sunday … I’m hoping it will be available tonight and I’ll add the URL here when I have it. We tried hard to give people “the whole Lou” from across his career, but sadly we were short of post-Drella material. The full podcast of that evening also features many other artists who drew from Reed’s artistry either directly or indirectly, and will be made available later.

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    • postpunkmonk says:

      chasinvictoria – D’oh! Do you know that I never got to see exactly what you bought on your trip with us?! How crazy (and indicative of a problem) is that? Why, just yesterday, I finally got around to starting to look at the Simple Minds tour book and just barely began reading the liner notes to my music purchases! That is just messed up! It’s a first for me, and not one I’m proud of.

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