I’ve been having a relationship with Lou Reed since before I can remember. To say he was my idol isn’t exactly correct, but to say he was an artist, a performer and a musician I looked up to, is right on.
Lou Reed was one of the founding fathers of the seminal band called The Velvet Underground. He and the band were non-conformists, they did their own thing and didn’t give a rats-butt about what anyone else thought. They sang songs about the life that they knew, telling it like it is, and offering no excuses. Of course there wasn’t any money to be made with that sort of verve, but the music mattered and not the pocketbook. That’s kind of what Lou Reed always stood for.
After Reed had some success with the Velvet Undergrounds “Sweet Jane,” and then with his own “Walk on the Wild Side,” it is said that his record producer, RCA, wanted one last killer album full of some of Lou Reeds best work. Reed, being Reed and a non-conformist all the way, gave them “Metal Machine Music,” which has been called either the worst album of all time, or as a statement about having to put out an album when pressured by the record company, the BEST album of all time.
Metal Machine Music is one constant electronic drone. No words, no music, no melody, just basically noise that was released as a double album set, if you can believe that. It is the most bizarre, and perhaps the most brilliant record album ever released, if you can call droning electronic sounds that goes on for 60 minutes, brilliant, that is. That album, right there, was a trip, and it made him my hero.
Through the years, Lou Reed never went out of style. He always managed to do gigs, always managed to remain relevant and always had “Sweet Jane” to fall back on. He even teamed up with Metallica to make the album “Lulu,” and he was more popular as of late than he had been for years.
It’s hard to categorize Lou Reed and pin him down to any one genre’. Although he played rock and roll, he wasn’t really a rocker. Although he did some experimental music, many of his songs had pop beats to them. Although he can arguably be said to have been a part of the early Indie and punk movement, he was just kind of doing his own thing and belonged to know specific movement of any kind.
Perhaps because he was all of that, and more, is why he was so terrific. He never conformed, he always remained true to himself and he did exactly what he wanted to do regardless of anything else.
I remember driving with my sister to the beach one time, and “Walk on the Wild Side” came on the radio. Now, my sister had been living in California, so she was more more worldly than I was, and as this song began to play and I listened to the lyrics, I just about fell over. I was thinking, “How can they get away by playing this song on the radio?” I mean, Reed was singing about transsexuals, about drugs and about blow jobs! And remember, this came out in the early 70’s when you just didn’t say that sort of stuff on records or the radio.
I sat there spellbound and said to my sister, “Can you believe this?” But she just replied, “That dude knows what it’s all about. That’s how the real world is out there, and he’s telling it like it is.”
That’s Lou Reed alright, always telling it like it is. I’m going to miss him, damn am I ever.
Here is Lou Reed doing a live version of “Sweet Jane.”
Take a walk on the wild side.