I never got into Lou Reed’s solo stuff much, don’t even think I ever had an album he did past the Velvet Underground’s Loaded. I loved that one, and still do, especially Rock’n’Roll–which I remember hearing on the AM radio, Head Held High, with the terrific drum break announcing the change, and Sweet Jane, one of my favorite songs ever. I remember even quoting that somehow in a bit I wrote on Miles Davis and Wayne Shorter in the LA Weekly. About how those were different times, the poets studied rules of verse and the ladies, they rolled their eyes. I hate calling anything poetry–some of the worst crap in the English language is called poetry, it’s an insult almost–but that is poetry, that rules of verse, rolling their eyes bit. Rock’n’roll poetry. I hear jazz purists tell me no one has written a decent lyric since the Great American Songbook and I think to myself yeah, fuck you, those guys never wrote a Sweet Jane. They wouldn’t even know how.
That first Velvets album sure had an enormous impact on me. Huge. I actually had a used copy I found in O.C., of all counties, complete with the peelable banana intact. Considering how few copies were sold (Brian Eno said it was thirty thousand in five years), it’s weird I found a copy in some used record store in Tustin way back when. I was in high school or maybe junior college. I just had to have a copy so I could listen to Heroin whenever I wanted. Which I did, with headphones, Lou’s jabbering words against John Cale’s searing viola….the tension building, building, Maureen beating almost ametrically back there, like a heart gone crazy with that first flush of the narcotic, and Sterling Morrison and Lou explode in frazzled, frenzied guitar. Damn. God damn. There was nothing, absolutely nothing like it at the time. Not even Hendrix had gone that far over the edge, and Hendrix inevitably gave in to virtuosity. You couldn’t hang that on the Velvets. They couldn’t play worth shit compared to the other stuff coming out in 1967. As if it mattered.
All us early punks were vastly influenced by that album. Our music’s lyrics pretty much came from that. The MC5 were rowdy and crazy and loud as hell, but were basically Detroit hippies. Free love and rock’n’roll and inchoate revolution. Awesome band, the MC5, but they weren’t us. Nor were the Stooges, mostly, because mostly the Stooges were a Stones in hell rock’n’roll band. Iggy even did a bad Jagger impression singing. It was rock’n’roll, some of the best ever, but it wasn’t us in 1977. Lou’s Velvet Underground, though…well, intellectually they set the scene for NYC’s CBGB’s and Max’s scene in the 70’s, from which our music sprang. And like I said, they couldn’t play, and neither could we. But it didn’t matter. That was the point. The brilliant Beat story telling, the dissonance and scraping scratchy guitar noise, the berzerk rave ups, that demented viola, the total fuck you hippie about it all…that first Velvet Underground album kinda created us. It’s still one of my favorite records ever. And to top it off Nico’s take on Femme Fatale is one of the most gorgeous ballads you’ve ever heard. Something I wish I hadn’t said, because it means I have should explain the whole album, and how different the tunes are, and perfect, and still spooky and evocative and rocking and thoroughly sad and depressing. But I won’t.
But he Citizen Kane’d himself with that one, Lou did, and didn’t help anything with the ferociously noisy follow up White Light White Heat. A zillion minutes of Sister Ray, all colossal noise. And the absolute rock out freedom of I Heard Her Call My Name. I felt my mind split open. Poor Lou would never again create anything that could possibly top those two. It was so right place, wrong time. That’s how we felt about ourselves, stuck in the demoralizing misery of the 1970’s. We wanted to be back then with Lou, in the wild and free sixties, money everywhere. We formed crazy bands and played terrible renditions of Heroin. I remember it was the encore of my first show ever, and my arms nearly fell off laying down that bup bup, bup bup beat on the rack and floor toms, the guitar player losing his mind in a ferocious rave up. When that heroin is in my blood, and that blood is in my brain….. I never did heroin. That song helped that, I’m sure.
Heroin fucked Lou up. Heroin and alcohol and you name it. I wonder when he quit. He looked like death warmed over years ago. They gave him a new liver but something went wrong. It happens. Lou died. It was October 27. And today Facebook is overflowing with heartfelt paeans to Lou Reed, hero, saint, beautiful artist, beautiful man. Tragedy. So sad. Depressed, you mope around this cloudy day, lighting candles, wallowing in self-absorbed pity. Poor Lou, you say, poor Lou. You tell your little stories. But come on, the dude was a prick. He was famous for it. Which is all well and good, as far as I’m concerned, as there were no nice people in his songs either. They came from the mean, sleazy streets of New York, dark and greasy and rank with wino piss. The people are fuck ups, doomed, scuzzy. There’s nothing nice about his music at all. At least not back then. He wrote about ugly people in ugly places, about people utterly wasting their lives. His songs took place in New York, grey and dirty and in black in white, and full of death. So today Lou joins them. Becomes one of his own characters. Let’s not make him out to be nice. Let’s not insult the man with gushing praise. Lets not make him pretty, label him a poet, write florid rock critic prose, somber and badly metaphor’d. The hell with that. The world sucks. People die. Heroes aren’t heroes, not in their own eyes. They just want to write songs and be left alone. It’s hard enough to get a cab in that damn town. You can score smack easier quicker than you can hail a cab. Just ask Lou, or ask the people he wrote about. They’d tell you that beatifying a New York Bowery bum is a joke. That the world is out to get them, all grey and heartless and cold, ugly old brownstones and dances with men in dresses, loud rock’n’roll feedbacked through a horrible P.A., and the wasted, the fucked up, and the dead. Yeah, people die. Lou died. He probably wouldn’t have it any other way. Of course it wasn’t up to him. That’s the last laugh. People cackle in the alleyways. The Factory is off there somewhere, full of queens and freaks and degenerates. Flash forward half a century and most of that crowd is dead. Those that aren’t tell everybody they fucked Lou Reed, but it wasn’t very meaningful.
Meaningful. Like all the stuff I’m seeing on Facebook today, so heartfelt and meaningful. As if that meant anything in Lou’s dank, dark creations. As if he’d care what you think. Like you could possibly know. Lou Reed didn’t care about you. He didn’t care about your world at all. It wasn’t his. His had no time for you and your emotions and poetic turns of phrase. And if you don’t get that, you don’t get it any of it. So just fuck off. Just fuck off and die. He did.
But just the same, Lou Reed, rest in peace.