“Thought of you as my mountaintop/ thought of you as my peak. Thought of you as everything / I had but couldn’t keep” -Pale Blue Eyes
We have had some time to reflect here at NOTHING BUT HOPE AND PASSION on the recent death of LOU REED. More than just the creative force behind THE VELVET UNDERGROUND, LOU REED was a genius musician leaves a legacy far too vast to sum in a few paltry paragraphs. But we’re gonna try.
A type of trivial tuning that has become standard in drone music. The title references a satirical pop song he wrote while employed as a songwriter at Pickwick Records, The Ostrich was a Bo Diddley-style track that slyly poked fun at the golly-gee themes in rock music of the day.
The Black Angel’s Death Song
Co-written with JOHN CALE, this song has the Angel of Death philosophizing, amidst sawing-viola-in-half style strings and tones that are “challenging” to say the least. Booked as regulars at Café Bizarre, and required to fulfill every last minute of their contract, THE VELVET UNDERGROUND had their revenge by playing this in long drawn out sets. The infuriated club owner eventually threatened to kick them out if they kept playing this song. This ear splitting masterpiece treads the line between melodic and dissonant, with buzzing mosquito and feedback.
All the songs about heroin, because he dared to sing about it
In songs, LOU REED was one of the first to acknowledge the prevalence and place of heroin in the world he wrote about, populated by men and women at the fringes of society. He was one of the first musicians who brought the drug into mainstream discourse, without veiling his subject matter. Heroin, over seven minutes long, begins with a slow deliberate guitar staccato that slowly and steadily crescendos, musically representing a high. You may have never tried it, but listen to that track and you’ll know exactly what a junkie is thinking and feeling. I’m Waiting for Man is another VELVET UNDERGROUND classic, with a walking drum beat that you can hear following the footsteps of a drug addict trying to score. “I’m feeling good/I’m feeling so fine/ Until tomorrow but that’s just some other time.” And we all know the sad, bittersweet ode to to a day spent high on heroin that is Perfect Day.
All those songs about gender identity
Culture and social norms were in upheaval when LOU REED started to perform. The days of the idyllic post-War America was fading, men’s buzz cuts were grown into mop tops and ponytails, and the women’s liberation movement started to ask hard questions. He didn’t give any quick and easy answers, singing about beautiful women who toy with others for enjoyment (Femme Fatale or There She Goes Again) and transvestites: “Plucked her eyebrows on the way/shaved her legs and then he was a she” –Walk on the Wild Side
Released in November 1972, the track Walk on the Wild Side made it to the top 20 Billboard Charts, and probably encouraged thousands of runaways and suburban kids to idealize the life on the streets.
“I always believed I had something important to say and I said it.” LOU REED‘s musical output was prolific. He put out over twenty three studio solo albums, several live albums and logged enough collaborations to make you jealous (John Cale, Andy Warhol, David Bowie and so on). Although best known for his work with THE VELVET UNDERGROUND, Lou Reed was an incredibly hard working and originative musician who did not stay tied to a genre or medium. He released an album every few years (last one was 2011’s Lulu, with contributions from METALLICA) and kept touring before illness forced him to stop. In an interview in 1987, he stated “all through this, I’ve always thought that if you thought of all of it as a book then you have the Great American Novel, every record as a chapter. They’re all in chronological order. You take the whole thing, stack it and listen to it in order, there’s my Great American Novel.”
Metal Machine Music
Before THE FLAMING LIPS could do Zaireeka, (the album played on 4 separate players) before NIRVANA could make an album like Bleach, before we divided various “–cores” into screamcore, hardcore: there was Metal Machine Music. Release in July, 1975, it’s only four tracks, averaging sixteen minutes each, this album is mostly feedback. Grating, screeching, dog-paralyzing feedback. There is no melody, there is harmony, it is exactly as what the album title indicates. Imagine a metal robot slowly clawing itself to death while going insane, and you have a soundtrack.
He loved and eventually married LAURIE ANDERSON, a established New York City performance artist and musician in her own right. One could wonder what the day-to-day life of this creative couple was like. Both their respective work is so cerebral and multi-layered, you have to wonder how the artists related to each other instead of burning out. In Anderson’s goodbye to him (published in Rolling Stone) she talks about how they met in Munich in 1992. Reed and Anderson’s first true date was at the Audio Engineering Society Convention, and they met up in the Microphones section. Eventually, in 2008 decided to get married. She was in California, he was in New York, they met in Boulder and tied the knot in a friend’s backyard. His widow says :“He was always so generous. He knew how hard it was to do. We loved our life in the West Village and our friends; and in all, we did the best we could do.”
Never was a better track written that captures that feeling, that weekend past, that yet another portion of your life and allotted time on this earth has slipped through your fingers.
In whatever form, LOU REED was one of those pivotal figures who changed the musical soundscape. Talking about his vindication at the belated success and critical acclaim of THE VELVET UNDERGROUND in the liner notes to the box set Peel Slowly and See: “It makes me feel really good that music is as contemporary as we meant it to stay. People thought I was bullshitting, or pretentious, for trying to do something you could listen to years from now. Something that would engage you, your sensibilities and sensitivities, in a way that is timeless and isn’t just based on teenage angst.”. RIP 1942 – 2013.