Thoughts on Lou Reed

I discovered Lou Reed when I was about 12 or 13. 
Lou provided an alternative to the bombastic cocksure rock of the 70’s, and somehow his music caught my ear in spite of its lack of the guitar-hero element. He was a character like Bowie, but genuine and grounded to the real street life of New York City.
 
Sally is losing her face
She lives on St. Marks place
In a rent-controlled apartment, eighty dollars a month
She had lots of fun, she had lots of fun
(From Sally Can’t Dance)
 
Every time I go to NYC, I hit St. Marks. Maybe to connect to the great stories of Lou’s lyrics, maybe just to try on some punk rock clothes at Trash & Vaudeville. I imagine Lou and his characters walking around Greenwich Village, searching for identities and acceptance.
 
I didn’t really get the Velvet Underground. Maybe I was too young, or obsessed with lead guitar. I prefer his solo work. Something about Lou’s voice conveying a gritty truth caught my interest. These were songs that I could sing and play on my acoustic: simple chord changes and wild imagery. I played “Vicious” in a cover band in college. That always went over well. “Vicious! You hit me with a flower, you do it every hour, you’re so vicious.” Great bass line in that one, too!
 
Wild Child had some great verses, images of strange conversations:
 
I was talking to Chuck in his Ghengis Khan suit and his wizard hat
We spoke of his movie, and how he was making a new soundtrack
 
Sleeping out on the streets, oh, living all alone
Without a house or a home, and she asks you please
Hey baby can I have some spare change?
Can I break your heart?
 
My introduction to Lou was the cassette version of Walk On The Wild Side: The Best of Lou Reed. I borrowed it from a friend and never gave it back! Then I found the Rock and Roll Animal record, with some great live performances and killer lead guitar work courtesy of Steve Hunter and Dick Wagner.
 
Transformer has some real gems. Satellite of Love, with the Bowie-esque outer-space lyrics and New York Telephone Conversation, which reminds me of the playfulness of When I’m 64 by the Beatles. Interesting, the collision of a young Bowie and Mick Ronson with Lou’s street-rock sensibility.


 
Lou’s songs paint great little scenes you can get lost in. Images of a New York City that was distant and removed from suburban Indiana. People in his songs seemed like they were on adventures, out there doing all the real living. I was just in my room with headphones hoping someone had some weed. Hahahaa…
I guess I had Indiana experiences. I would hop on my moped and ride down into Indianapolis to my friend Andy’s house in the middle of the night. We would listen to ‘sides’ in his brother’s room- the Stones, Bowie, Lou Reed, Zeppelin, The Who, etc… We had our own little world. That was my adventure.
 
Lou sang about the people you didn’t hear about in most other songs. Like Average Guy:
 
I'm an average lover and I live in an average place
you wouldn't know me if you met me face to face!

Average in everything I do, my temperature is 98.2!
 
It made me feel better, knowing that I was a bit average, maybe like Lou? Easy stuff to play. So many of his songs were just D and G…
His Blue Mask CD was great. A bit more of a ‘modern’ sound than Transformer or the Rock ‘n’ Roll Animal stuff. Exquisite guitar work by Robert Quine, and bass guitar mastery by Fernando Saunders. This whole album is a great listen, from the haunting mood of a lost spirit in My House, to Women (I…love…women!) to the spooky/junkie vibe of The Heroine.
 
Another great CD was the Growing Up In Public – he had a fantastic NYC band for that one and it really rocks. Funny songs like The Power of Positive Drinking – with a dry wit that LA rock bands could never touch. Somehow Lou made you feel like you were in it with him.
 
I have listened to the albums after those, but they don’t quite have the impact that the earlier ones did for me. Maybe it was my age, I don’t know. There is some special place in my heart for those recordings that seeped into the fabric of adolescence. From Van Halen, to Jimi Hendrix to Bowie and Neil Young to Lou Reed, it didn’t matter what kind of music it was, just that it made a connection to my younger self.
 
Lou was a pro at painting the pictures. Like Tom Wolfe is in prose, Lou was in poetry. So, I will continue to celebrate his life and work. I recorded a version of Sally Can’t Dance on my last CD, and now I am going to go listen to The Blue Mask
 
Lou will always be just a couple clicks away.


 
 

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