Lou Reed exposed the dark side of the ’60s that a lot of people either didn’t want you to know about or were completely ignorant to the fact that such worlds even existed. Back in the ’60s, there were so many people so safely ensconced within their own worlds that they could afford to project the West Coast brand of the peace/love ethic of the day. It was their way of expanding understood norms while practicing tolerance of others. For many, it also became a cocoon which eventually collapsed in upon itself. Lou Reed practiced tolerance not because it was the thing to do or to shelter you. He did it because he had the metaphorical bruises to prove it to you that tolerance was the only way to literally survive walking through that other door.
Let’s think about this for a while. Bob Dylan gave us political and emotional expansion through his songwriting. Jagger and Richards freed our bodies and actually liberated women in their own way. And then Jagger really stuck his neck out when “Sympathy For The Devil” was written. And then there was Lou Reed. Nobody was writing about shooting heroin, SM/bondage, waiting for drug dealers for a score or about passing around a woman and beating her to keep her in line in 1966. Starting with the first Velvet Underground album, The Velvet Underground & Nico, Lou Reed broke ground and kept on doing it. These subjects were so groundbreaking because these subjects weren’t alluded to. He wrote about it clear out in the open.
Back in the Fall of 1972, I got exposed to the “Walk On The Wild Side” single edit version. I was in 5th Grade at the time. It was an eye-opener for me. Instead of frightening the hell out of me, I thought it was one of the coolest things I had ever heard. I could feel New York City breathing in that song even though I had never been there (and still haven’t). I didn’t know all of the references, but I got most of them. The Jazz gait just killed me. And let’s own up to the fact that the sax solo at the end of the song is one of the greatest things to have ever been put to tape in the history of music. Ever since that Fall of ’72, I’ll listen to the end part of the song where that sax solo plays against the background orchestration and I’ll always have this one scene playing in my mind that I saw when I heard the single for the first time. I always have this scene of a New York City high-rise apartment or building of some sort, the rooftop part of it, in twilight as the sun is sinking down against a dirty orange overcast sky and with dust rising up to meet the sky. I never fail to think of that. Everybody, including myself, always refers to the sax solo, but the subtle orchestration never gets the credit it is due as well. That orchestration was the dust rising in the air. Wow! When I began listening to FM radio in the Summer of ’74, within a year, I finally got exposed to the full-album version of “Walk On The Wild Side”. This song, along with others, made start to really despise single edits. Lou Reed helped me to understand censorship and set up the foundation for my disliking it so much. I am forever grateful to him for this.
Sadly, it took a long time for me to finally get introduced to The Velvet Underground. In fact, it took me clear until the ’90s before I finally got my first copy of The Velvet Underground & Nico album. It was a first time listening experience I’ll never forget. After I had listened to it for the first time, I realized that this was the final five-star album that I needed to listen to in order to understand why Reed was so important. It also pretty much completed my education concerning the Rock & Roll side of the ’60s. After that, a lot of other music was going to be fantastic extra shadings. It also took for Cowboy Junkies and their Trinity Session album to plant the seed in my head to finally get into The Velvet Underground. Even at that, it took me a couple of years after that album came out for me to make the plunge. One thing kept gnawing at me though. On the promo poster for The Trinity Session, it had a quote from Reed which said “The best and most authentic version of “Sweet Jane” that I have ever heard.” Well, I needed to go to the source eventually because this was causing a music itch of a growing intensity.
I need this music. Whenever I listen to anything from the Velvets or Lou Reed’s solo material (as it concerns solo-particularly Transformer and Rock And Roll Animal), I am amazed as to how I need the constant reminder of my own tolerance towards people who are living alt. lifestyles. I claim open-mindedness to people and then I’ll realize somewhere along the line of how much I’m falling short of the ideal. It wasn’t a coincidence that Reed and David Bowie re-shaped the early ’70s. My only regret is that Reed and Bowie didn’t get to work more together during that period immediately after Transformer. The both of their’s trajectories shot off into the stratosphere and they both didn’t have the chance to look back.
This is such a huge loss for the music community. And what will I tell younger people when I try to describe Lou Reed? What do I say? I don’t know what context it was said, but I can paraphrase something that Mick Jagger once said about Lou Reed back around 1973 or 1974. Perhaps someone was annoying Jagger by trying to downgrade Reed or to ask who was better himself, Bowie or Reed. Mick shot back something along the lines of “Nobody does Lou Reed better than f***ing Lou Reed! And don’t you ever forget it, man!” That really sums things up quite nicely, don’t you?
I really hope that we’ll be reading some quotes from Jagger, Bowie, Bono, Elton John and the surviving members of the Velvets in the coming days. One of the great impressions of Lou Reed that stays with me is when U2 went out on the road back in 1992 for the Zoo T.V. Tour and they did the version of “Satellite Of Love” with Lou Reed while Reed was shown on the video monitors. It was a completely riveting moment to witness. Reed brought that New York flair with him that was so real.
I am so greatly indebted to Lou Reed. He taught a straight like myself to see a world beyond myself and to accept people of all types. When a musician does this for society, how can you not refer to him as anything but a giant in his field? Lou Reed, you are going to be so greatly missed.