Lou Reed – rocker, songwriter, singer, guitarist, poet, artist, New Yorker. The world lost a unique visionary this past Sunday. Artists like Lou Reed do not come around all that often. We were privileged to experience, first hand, the gifts that Lou Reed had to offer and we can be thankful for the opportunity to continue to explore his art and find new treasures hidden beneath the surface.
Lou was New York and rock and roll through and through. He was Brooklyn-born and Long Island-raised (he grew up in Freeport). He was schooled on early rock and roll, rhythm and blues and street corner harmony. He became interested in writing and poetry at Syracuse University. After college, songwriting and rock and roll became his life. The Velvet Underground came together in the mid 1960s. Enter Andy Warhol. The rest is history.
To me, Lou Reed was the definition of cool. Wearing a leather jacket and playing a guitar, he was all about reality, truth and honesty; even if it was at times ugly and hard to look at. Lou lived it and sang about it. He sang about what was really going on under the fake glitter and gold and behind the phony smiles. He sang about what was happening in the dark alleys, the doorways, the side streets; places where light struggled to reach. He chronicled the events that happened after the door was locked and the shades were drawn. His subjects were the guys in the street, the waitresses, the cab drivers, the struggling artists, the eccentrics, the outcasts, the losers, the drunks, the junkies, the lonely and the sad. His world was straightforward and bare. It was in your face, if it needed to be. Yet, Lou wasn’t afraid of things like falling in love, domesticity, drinking egg creams and getting old. All of that was cool, too. Lou’s music career was a real life novel. Each album was a chapter. Each chapter took on a life of its own. Each sentence made you think.
In 1989, Lou released the album New York. I was 24 years old. I was struggling to figure it all out. Life and love, good and bad. Don’t get me wrong – on the surface, life was good, but underneath that surface, I was wandering and confused. I was sad, angry, bitter and scared. That album grabbed me and pulled me in. I didn’t always understand what Lou was singing about. I hadn’t experienced some of the things he described. But the New York album hit a chord in me and hit it hard. It was tough. It was real. It was raw emotion. There was no bullshit. It was rock and roll. Its tension was similar to what I was trying to sort through and make sense of in my head. It made me feel strong and brave. And, New York was my city. New York was my soundtrack that year. I related to it.
New York also blew open the doors of musical discovery for me. Lou Reed’s world was one I looked at from the outside and observed from a distance. With New York, I walked in. There were albums like Rock N Roll Animal, Transformer and The Blue Mask. Magic And Loss and Set The Twilight Reeling were yet to come. There were songs like “Walk On The Wild Side,” “Heroin,” “The Power Of Positive Drinking,” “Sweet Jane,” “Coney Island Baby,” “Vicious,” “White Light/White Heat,” “Rock And Roll,” “The Original Wrapper.”
Thanks, Lou. May you forever walk on the wild side.