I was going to post my “To NaNo or Not to NaNo” blog today. All that changed unexpectedly. When I read earlier today that Lou Reed had passed away this morning, my first thought was, “No way…guys like Lou Reed just don’t die.”
I came to an appreciation of Lou Reed and the Velvet Underground late in my twenties. But once I was in, I was in. The Velvet Underground wasn’t for everyone – especially when you consider some of Reed’s subject matter dealt with drug abuse, sadomasochism, and sexual deviancy – but there’s the oft-quote adage that while the Velvet Underground didn’t sell many records, those who did buy the albums ended up forming their own bands. Punk, new wave, glam, alternative, indie rock, so many have come in the Velvet’s wake, and in Lou Reed’s wake, from his massive influence.
For me, personally, I always admired Lou Reed for being so unpredictable. He revelled in being exactly what you thought he wasn’t going to be. He could be impossible to pin down, and that makes, for me, an endlessly fascinating artist, even when the artist stumbles along the way. But Lou made more masterpieces than mistakes.
One of his best songs, Rock and Roll, pretty much sums up much of my life growing up. Substitute “Jenny” for me, and it’s my life. It’s your life. Lou Reed was writing about everyone’s life the first time they heard rock n’ roll. And it was heaven.
If Lou Reed, who was about as contrarian an artist as there ever was one, taught us one thing, it was this: Lou Reed didn’t give one shit what you thought about him or what he did. He put his work out there, once he was completed with it, and let you do whatever you wanted to do with it. He did his part, by giving everything to his music, and once he was satisfied, he left it out to the world for open consumption. Whether you agreed with his output, or were compelled to outrage, none of that mattered to Lou Reed. He wasn’t going to alter his vision or accommodate anyone who needed a road map to follow his idiosyncratic career trajectory. He once famously quipped, “My bullshit is worth more than other people’s diamonds.”
In other words, what you do as an artist, you ultimately do for two reasons: one, because you’re following your muse, wherever the muse directs you, and, two, you do it for yourself. The end. You don’t create to satisfy your audience, unless that audience is you. You didn’t like what he was doing? That was your problem, pal, not his. He paid his dues. Go pay yours. That attitude. It pissed off legions of listeners everywhere, and won him legions of fans everywhere.
Lou Reed could be combative, difficult, elliptical, alienating, unpredictable, and inspiring, all rolled into one, and so quintessentially New York City. He was a rock n’ roll animal whom we’ll never see the likes of again.
Tonight, as I write this, this fantastic live show from December 26, 1972 is coming through the speakers. It’s a no-nonsense, tight-yet-loose gig, and very powerful.
Goddammit, guys like Lou Reed aren’t supposed to die.