Lou Reed Takes A Walk Down That Dirty Boulevard

Lou Reed, dead at 71. Dang, there goes another. Getting old ain’t for wimps, as my daddy used to tell me, and the older I get the more childhood heroes fall to The Reaper (“It’s a Mr. Death, honey, he says he’s come about the reaping?!?!?”). Lou Reed wasn’t my favorite performer or songwriter but I pretty much love at least 3 of the VU albums and 4 of his solo efforts. His death isn’t as hard hitting as, say, Joe Strummer’s was, but it’s still a bummer he’s gone. Anyway, for what it’s worth, here are a few thoughts on Lou Reed and his music:

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a) I always enjoyed his cantankerous interviews with the legendary and last truly great rock critic Lester Bangs (OK, Paul Morley was pretty impressive). Here’s a teaser from one of them. I’d suggest you hunt down and read all of them, they’re fascinating, if a little uncomfortable, and damn funny!

“In one of the interviews he did last summer, Lou said: “I can create a vibe without saying anything, just by being in the room.”

He was right. You sit yourself down, and sure enough you become aware pretty fast that there’s this vaguely unpleasant fat man sitting over there with a table full of people including his blonde bride. Pretty soon he comes over to join you and the tic becomes focused too sharply for comfort. It’s not just that Lou Reed doesn’t look like a rock’n’roll star any more. His face has a nursing-home pallor, and the fat girdles his sides. He drinks double Johnnie Walker Blacks all afternoon, his hands shake constantly and when he lifts his glass to drink he has to bend his head as though he couldn’t possibly get it to his mouth otherwise. As he gets drunker, his left eyeball begins to slide out of sync.

In spite of all this, however, he managed to live up to his reputation for making interviewers uncomfortable. He fixes you with that rusty bug eye, he creaks and croaks and lies in your face and you’re helpless. He lies about his music and his album covers (“That was me in drag on the back of Transformer.”) Most of all, he lies about himself. But he qualifies it by saying, “I don’t especially tell the truth most of the time anyway.”

b) I cannot stand the album White Light/White Heat, if for no other reason that it inspired the members of Sonic Youth to start a band…I find it too corrosive and too obviously antagonistic, something he would absolutely perfect with Metal Machine Music, quite possibly the worst album of all time. WL/WH isn’t nearly as bad as that, the title track has its qualities, but I can’t stomach the rest.

c) Loaded, the VU’s last album with Reed (kind of) is an underrated gem, even the Doug Yule bits. Full stop.

d) Transformer is, in my opinion, the best Reed solo effort, followed by New Yorkl, followed by Berlin, followed by the Blue Mask. All his other albums fall under fifth place. When he hit he hit, when he missed he missed hard. The mark of a true artist, I suppose.

e) Let’s be honest, here, folks: The Banana Album would have been soooooo much better had Nico not participated. Am I right? Huh?

f) That all said, Heroin, Rock and Roll, Sweet Jane, I’m Waiting For The Man, Satellite Of Love, Dirty Boulevard, Perfect Day, Walk On The Wild Side, Caroline Says 1, Pale Blue Eyes, The Blue Mask, The Day John Kennedy Died, What Goes On and at least a dozen more are some of the finest songs in the history of modern pop music.

Rest In Peace, Mr. Reed.

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