On Sunday Lou Reed died, and that left me saddened and amazed. How could Lou die? So soon, too soon. 71. How could that go so quickly?
Lou is a lot of memories for me. Listening to the third Velvets album in York in 1975, lilting and fragile, melancholy and worldly and hopeful (still my favourite Velvets record). Playing “Transformer” into the ground from some time in 1974 till I left home. Hanging onto the sound of “The Velvet Underground and Nico” like a life raft after a miserable, isolating school move. Being scared shitless just reading the liner notes to “Metal Machine Music” in the messed up, hot Summer of ’75.
In the mid seventies he was the most unlikely teen hero. He was part of glam, but he wasn’t the wink, nudge and sparkle of Brit glam, with its laughing vaudeville that only just missed pantomime. As I once heard someone remark, Lou’s glam was really intense, and kinda scary. This was not all going to be fun. Not only would your parents not like this, neither would most of your friends. He dragged so much literature with him by default, that when you put that in a pop medium he became a pulp novel writ large, the kind you found in bookshops with painted out windows. But despite the wild and censor dodging success of “Walk on the Wild Side”, pop was not his thing.
“Transformer” was though a shining gem of glam pop rock, a sheer joy, and a brilliant collaboration of Reed, Bowie and Mick Ronson, awesome song writing and production, wrapped up in Mick Rock’s photography. And that voice.
“Berlin” became the epitome of records that you’d think people would slash their wrists to. You just had to say “Berlin” and people would look kinda pained and concerned. But it was at the same time beautiful, poetic, filmic, gorgeous, brutal and utterly bleak. A concept album no one wanted to think about, let alone “get into”. No one made records like that, and I don’t think anyone has since. And that voice again, intimate, personal. Too beautiful for its story, and the emotions it narrated.
Coney Island Baby was (with the exception of “Kicks”) a personable, almost confessional record at times, with an almost West Coast feel, and it’s probably my personal favourite of the stuff I kept track of. You feel like he’s happy and in love, and at the end of the day that means more than most things to me.
There’s a lot of Lou Reed records I never got to hear, and he wasn’t someone I went back to listen to by and large over the last twenty five years. All in all I’d just rather not, because I’m such a long way from the kid I used to be. But it would be almost impossible to not have listened to music that he had influenced, because he inspired and shaped so much music from glam to punk to post-punk and alternative rock.
Last thing I heard of was his collaboration with Metallica, which seemed to be really, really hated by a lot of people. I just thought “good for you”.
And now he’s gone, and it seems too soon.
Goodbye Lou. You got a kid through some very weird and lonely times.