Monday, October 28, 2013

Sweet Lou (In Loving Memory of Lou Reed)

Over the decades, people have come to appreciate and love Lou Reed through a variety of ways and media.
I know folks who discovered him because of Neil Gaiman.  Gaiman referenced both Reed and Velvet Underground several times during his seminal Sandman comic book series, often reaching deep into the artist's back catalog and making people, such as myself, go off in search of copies of very obscure songs.
This was before the day's of iTunes, mind you.  When you wanted to find the song "Coney Island Baby" you actually had to go find it at a record store.  It was a game, much the same way finding much-treasured rare books by an out-of-print author was at the used book store.
Others, such as myself, can probably thank Oliver Stone for their first introduction to Lou Reed.  Stone featured VU's song, "Heroin" on The Doors soundtrack.  "Heroin" is not a particularly good introduction to Velvet, because it tends to pigeon-hole the band as drug addicts instead of the pioneers they truly were.
For me, the fascination with the man really began with Trainspotting.
"Perfect Day," which Danny Boyle used to tremendous effect during the overdose scene, is a towering pinnacle of achievement in terms of ultra-personal storytelling.  On its surface, the song is a love story about two people spending the perfect day together.  In fact, my son just informed me it's currently being used in a Playstation 4 commercial.
"Just a perfect day, drank sangria in the park.  And later on, when it gets dark, we go home.  Just a perfect day, feed animals in the zoo, then later on, a movie too, and then home." 
Now consider this: Reed is not describing time spent with a lover.  
He's describing an addiction.  Whether or not it's to heroin, it's clearly about an obsession, some sort of dark and ominous thing the narrator carries with him day and night.  Kind of puts a spin on the old rampant commercialism, eh Sony?
Lou did many things during his career, but one of the things I most admired about him was his ability to reinvent himself.  In the early days, he morphed from psychedelic pioneer of guitar feedback, to a black-lipstick, blonde-haired clad dance machine.
Don't believe me?
Watch this video of a younger Lou (an admittedly skinny, sickly-looking Lou, but that's besides the point) around the 3:00 mark getting his groove on:

There are other videos from that era that are just as much fun to watch, but I was having trouble getting them to load.  They are endlessly entertaining.
Like any good Rock God, Lou's early days defined him.  His wild man ways, drug and sex dalliances, his falling out with Andy Warhol, all of it sealed him in the annals of sideshow Rock N' Roll for all eternity.  But that's not what I think about when I think of him.
For me, Lou Reed is, and always will be, an older poet.  A man who lived through the wars and you could see it on every line of his face.  He wasn't handsome, he wasn't a good signer, hell, he wasn't even that exciting of a performer during my lifetime, but he was honest.  He was true.  And he was brave.
Two of my favorite Lou Reed albums are "Magic and Loss" and "Set the Twilight Reeling."  Both of them were from his later period, and they are about death and rebirth.  In that order.  It tells me that there is hope for all of us, no matter what we see and do and go through.  If you live long enough, and stay true, you will make it.
So, for all of the poets and lonely souls on this side of the veil, we have sent another one of our own into the great goodnight.  Like a viking pyre, we've lit him up and set him adrift into the cold, black unknown and it hurts.  Of course it hurts, because there is a little less of that special, mystical quality in the world now.  But his work remains, and as I'm sure he would have agreed, that's enough.
I don't believe in Heaven.  But, if there is an afterlife, I hope Lou Reed now finds himself sitting on a rooftop garden in an ethereal New York City, looking down at the bridges and the skyline.  I imagine his spirit still walking those streets, there for us as a waypoint and a benchmark and an inspiration. The same way he has always been.
1942 - 2013
If you made it this far, do yourself a favor and read Lou Reed's review of Kanye West's "Yeezus" album by clicking this link. Just goes to show you how into things the guy was up until the end.  Grade-A Authentic New York City American Poet Musician Statesman and we'll not easily see his like again.
I love the guy and I'm going to miss him.


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