Inevitably – age catches up to everyone. Rock n’ Rollers are no exception.
Lou Reed is the latest victim of a combination of age / sickness. Who is next? McCartney? Ringo? Jagger? Richards? ( never mind the latter – the Stones’ guitarist’s shelf life has long since passed and his existence is questionable …)
The common denominator within the names above is simple…
What is that? Reed legendary on the same level as The Beatles and The Stones? Did Reed ( who passed away at the age of seventy-one) pen tunes along the lines of Hey Jude or Brown Sugar? Over and over? Are his songs implanted into the gums of music history – never to be removed or destroyed in fire?
Around the world, in the past few days, young rockers ( or just plain youthful musicians) have prodded their parents with pesky questions pertaining to Mr. Reed. Truthfully and sadly –one response to the rockin’ requests was undoubtedly delivered. Answered with a glint in the eye and a jump to the past …
‘Take a walk on the wild side …” The PARENTS may have said, thinking back to a simpler time. ” … Plucked her eyebrows on the way, shaved her legs and then he was a she.’ ….’And the colored girls say dododo dodo dododo do dodo dodo dododo do dodo dodo dododo do dodo dodo dododo …’
‘Yeah …’ Came the responses from unresponsive teens. ” I know that tune! Great song …!” With that – the young ones would continue listening to Muse or The Sheepdogs in their interior worlds known as iPods. The horror!
Lou Reed – who passed away on the weekend, was known more for than just one song. His work with The Velvet Underground and specifically Nico – produced one of the greatest albums of all time. ‘Femme Fatale’. ‘Venus in Furs’,’There She Goes Again‘, ‘I’ll be Your Mirror’ and ‘I’m Waiting for the Man‘ – songs to be sung forever …
What made that album legendary – is something most artists cannot claim. The melodies, the harmonies, the musicianship, the songwriting and the chemistry between Cale,Reed, Nico, Morrison and Tucker – impeccable. Many artists can claim that on discs such as ‘Pet Sounds’, ‘Revolver’ and ‘Exile on Main Street‘ yet the songs Reed wrote or co -wrote did not make Reed a legend. What made Reed a legend was his courage or ‘defiance’ to talk or sing about all things taboo. The music was the vehicle.
Heroin, Transsexuals, open sexuality ( the pre-cursor to f*ck friend) and general decadence. Things that existed. Things that lived and breathed in the pores of society long before Lou entered the dangerous picture. Reed made these subjects fashionable. The Rolling Stones may have opened the door – Reed and his ‘underground’ took it to another level. The Stones had their ‘Mother’s Little Helper‘ – Reed and his cronies raped her and stole her pills. Publicly!
Lyrically, Reed opened up to everything he saw. No candy-coating on what was happening in New York from 1966- 1973. No sugar in his coffee as he stared down the core of the rotting Big Apple. The world contains a lot of blackness and Reed drank it and spat it out. Darker than ever. Prettier than ever. Right up to his recent passing.
Some musicians are poets. Some poets are musicians. Some – talented in one way more than another. Reed was equal in his talents. Raw, undressed and ready to go. A guitar riff as raunchy as his scowling words. You could not dress him up or take him out. Not on terms that disagreed with him. Not on terms deemed ‘politically correct’ …
Mr. Reed invented political incorrectness. A child of his environment – Reed saw the United States for what it was. Hypocritical, seedy, uncouth, unworthy of his worthiness. The peace and love generation wanted to ‘fix’ things – Reed basked in the horrors. Somehow aware things would never change and if they did – they would stay the same.
Rock stars, Jazz stars, Pop stars, Country stars and Disco stars can all be labelled. Even if their personas flop between identities. Bowie was a spaceman, weird but understandable. Michael Jackson? A weirdo from space? Unidentifiable yet classifiable. Johnny Cash – a man tormented by demons yet agonizingly shelved with so many artists. On and on except for Lou Reed …
A rebel …? Sorta. A junkie in the form of Keith Richards …um …no. An alcoholic a la Moon? Nope. Not even close. A genius in the form of Dylan? Bite our collective tongues …
Reed was a man unlike any other. Lost in translation yet translated as lost. A man in the mirror. An introspective soul unafraid to discover himself. A guitar player whose chords were tuned to his world while staying out of tune with the world’s. Above Dylan yet darker? Tortured like Cash yet tamed through words. ‘Out there’ like a Bowie / Jackson tandem yet with feet planted firmly on Earth.
Lou Reed was an exception. In life and death.
I don’t know just where I’m going
But I’m gonna try for the kingdom, if I can
‘Cause it makes me feel like I’m a man
When I put a spike into my vein