I wasn’t surprised to hear about Lou Reed’s death. It wasn’t terribly untimely; he didn’t die young and in his prime. He didn’t O.D. The way I found out (one of my imaginary friends on Facebook) wasn’t ideal. The first thought I had was that I had lost my musical true magnetic north. You may not know Lou Reed’s music or the fantastic Baby Boomer life he led hobnobbing with Andy Warhol and David Bowie, recording with guys who would later become total art dork rock loyalty (Yes).
Lou Reed’s voice probably first came to my ears on old rock and roll radio, and I like to think he would have liked that. It was probably not his best work. It was probably Walk On The Wild Side in all of its demented mellowness. I liked his voice. It was his alone like Bob Dylan’s or Woody Guthrie’s, and it was the flip sides of those folk coins. If you don’t exactly sing like butter, you can still take a song and sing it if you have the balls to do it. You just have to sing it your way, and it helps a lot if the words are good.
I bought my first Lou Reed album at the Goodwill in Lebanon, PA. Rock and Roll Animal. It didn’t come with a white sleeve for inside the cardboard sleeve. Far as I know, it might never have had one because it still doesn’t. I still play this record, and it got a lot of time yesterday on the turntable. I can remember jumping around and air guitar playing Sweet Jane in my college apartment, The Barn at Slippery Rock, and last night I grabbed up my daughter and played her like a guitar while we spun around in the dining room. She was hollering, “I’M NOT A GUITAR DADDY!” but I really didn’t give a damn. This passes as good parenting in my house, and our family is an independent standing unit free of the influence of grandparents and their churches and ideas about what work, love, and history were. We are on our own.
Lou was on his own something like that. He made his own way, and he made a lot of music in his life. He was out there, hard to put a label on, and for Gen X, I think he represented that you could do that. You didn’t have to be one thing. Lou Reed was a hippie, a punk, a jazz guy, a folk guy, an electronica guy, a noise guy, an indie guy, an alternative guy, and if you’ve heard the Velvet Underground demo tapes, he could also play it Country and Western too. This ability to change hue, be a Chameleon, resonated with our own situations and the false notion that we were isolated. We were anything but isolated from knowledge, and the isolation we clung to was feeling like we didn’t quite fit into the Boomer World Domination Plan. In that typical way, we took our cues about isolation from a Baby Boomer like Lou Reed until the Truth was told by others our own age. Lou Reed stayed on my turntable even after his influence on other bands I liked seemed like a distant memory. It’s like Lou Reed is an obvious influence on everything. Rock and roll? Of course Lou Reed is in that. You don’t need somebody to tell you that any more than you need someone to tell you there’s a lot of German in the English language.
Lou Reed was perfect. If you were sitting in your tiny bedroom in a tiny place six miles from the interstate that led to the nearest big city two hours away, Lou Reed would tell you on the FM station that you should flee your rural nowhere. You should get to the nearest city where there was something happening. That something was Rock and Roll. That something was art and people your own age who understood your deal. Your hometown sucked, and you knew it. The city wouldn’t be perfect. That much was clear. You might end up a junkie. You might end up living next to a family of city rednecks who beat their kids and yelled all the time. It wouldn’t be perfect.
He wore black; all the best ones do. He rode motorcycles, and he liked art. It’s said he liked to argue, and it’s said he was kind of quiet. I’m kind of relieved I never met him. I saw him play on the New York tour, Tower theater, Philly, but I never actually met him or met anybody who knew him. One of my biggest fears is that if we’d met, it wouldn’t have gone well. We’re both off the hook now.