Goodbye, Lou: Reed Gone at 71

Published on November 4th, 2013 in: Eulogy, Music |

By Tim Murr

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The Best of The Velvet Underground: The Words and Music of Lou Reed blew my mind freshman year of high school. It was already a bit of a watershed year, anyway, when I first heard a lot of punk and industrial music for the first time, not to mention Nirvana’s breakthrough. My friend had made a pilgrimage to Knoxville (our closest big city) to buy some Velvet Underground based on an older friend’s recommendation. He returned like Moses down from the mountain with the precious plastic cassette that would launch multiple garage bands.

“You’ve got to hear this,” he said pressing the tape into my hand.

Nevermind came out of my Sony Walkman and BAM! The Velvets had their hooks in me. “Waiting For The Man” and “Run, Run, Run” were so primitive and raw and not at all what I knew and/or assumed about ’60s music.

Over the years I collected Reed’s albums and made mix tapes for the uninitiated. Actually, it was a bit of a Litmus test; if you like this we can be friends. Reed’s music became a friend itself during some dark periods in my life. Whether I was going through bad relationships or living in my car or dealing with living in a city that was virtually a ghost town to me after my friends had moved on to college and/or new cities, I always found solace in Reed’s tales of love and loss and kicks and pricks.

Of course, collecting Reed’s albums is a minefield if you don’t know what you’re doing. God forbid you buy something like Metal Machine Music or The Bells or The Raven or Rock And Roll Animal. But as horrible as some of his albums wound up being, you had to admit that as an artist he was bold and unafraid to try something new and defend it bitterly despite the results. Even to the end. His last album was a collaboration with Metallica that just didn’t work for me or anyone else I know. He probably would have been better off working with a group that spoke his language, but why give us what we expect?

You could tell in every song and in every interview that Lou Reed had an attitude (and an ego) of a giant trapped in his short frame. He was a badass NYC poet punk rocker from the beginning of The Velvet Underground and never changed even when he played jazzy cabaret or cheesy soul. He was damn good at writing haunting and catchy songs like “Walk On The Wild Side.” He created mesmerizing, life-changing albums like Berlin, Magic and Loss, Set The Twilight Reeling, and White Light White Heat (The Velvets).

Most live albums are useless and most of Reed’s are no different, but then there’s Take No Prisoners, made with the philosophy “if you can’t play rock and roll and you can’t play jazz, put them together then you’ve got something!” The songs are stretched out and Reed improvises new lyrics and stand-up bits with much profanity and humor.

Lou Reed made music that I’ll go to my grave listening to. As a writer I was more inspired by him than almost any author. And though I openly trashed his last couple of albums, he was still the man and my respect for him remained steadfast.

Goodbye, Lou. Thanks for everything.

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