Just 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.”
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