- October 27th, 2013
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First song I heard by Lou Reed was Heroin. It was the early 80′s and I had never heard of the Velvet Underground. My girlfriend’s ex-boyfriend stuck a cassette in the tape deck in his car and out came Heroin. “It’s my wife, and it’s my life” sang Lou. It took me a few months to find a copy. I went to my local used record store and ended up buying a vinyl copy of Lou Reed’s “Heroine” thinking I was going to hear that song again. That was one of Lou’s weakest efforts, but it didn’t deter me. After buying a used copy of “Transformer” I was hooked. I think I bought a half dozen Lou Reed albums before I finally bought a Velvet Underground LP and got a copy of that incredible song.
I shed a few tears today a while after I heard the news of Lou Reed’s death. It seems lame to be tearing up over the death of an old junkie, and I would not have predicted having that kind of reaction, but with a few hours of reflection it makes sense.
Lou Reed was a big deal to me. Some of my emotion is just plain old sentiment. But that’s not to diminish Lou’s talent. It’s easy to pick on him. He had no singing voice. He wasn’t nearly as smart or as talented as his poetic mentor Delmore Schwartz. His politics were banal. He wasn’t even all that bright, at least from what I’ve heard in interviews. But he had moments of brilliance.
I might have moved on from Lou, appreciating that one song from his early years, had it not been for Berlin. Berlin is a piece of exquisite torture. Listening to that record over and over, while my own white trash life was unraveling, I felt that I deserved to live. I was just another loser like the ones Lou was singing about, and who seemed very real to me. Goes to show how wrong you can be.
I never got to see him live. I had my chances. I wanted to buy tickets to a show he did in west Phoenix sometime in the 80′s supporting New Sensations (a very underrated album). But I couldn’t afford the tickets. I’m sure there were other times when he played nearby, but can’t remember consciously missing out on tickets.
New York was a good album, but most of the good press he got was political. Lou seemed to be a pretty lame, knee jerk liberal from what I’ve heard. I don’t hold it against him. It just means he didn’t ultimately give a shit about politics or didn’t care because he’d had money for a long time. I give him credit for marrying Laurie Anderson. She was quite an influence on me back in the day as well.
The best thing Lou ever did though was get back with John Cale and do the Andy Warhol album Songs for Drella. It’s a mixed bag like so many of his efforts, but there are a couple of gems on that record that are unforgettable. Hello it’s Me. Slip Away. But especially, Nobody but You.
Magic and Loss was about death, and was better than it got credit for. Check out songs like Sword of Damocles, Goodbye Mass and Harry’s Circumcision.
Lou was a part of my life for the past thirty years and he’s the first of my admittedly small pantheon of musicians to be lost. There’s older one’s that will be sooner gone. And not too many younger ones. For my life, the tiny pantheon’s probably already closed. It may not include the best, but includes the best that I knew at the time. Too late to go back and insert better talent now. But I don’t regret having Lou Reed as one of my heroes. Gone… up to the sky. Things like that drive me out of my mind.