Lou Reed is shown performing at the Lollapalooza music festival in Chicago in this 2009 photo.
The latest issue of Rolling Stone arrived at my house the other day. And on the cover of the Rolling Stone was Lou Reed.
He’s the acme of cool on that cover, dark shades and all. Right on. Less “right on” was the information “1942-2013.” It was a reminder that the man who sang “Waiting For My Man” before I was born was, in fact, dead.
The day Lou died? Not such a Perfect Day, to paraphrase.
Lou Reed is an acquired taste, and listeners can be forgiven for passing him up. His talk/sorta-sing grates on certain ears. Ditto some of the music. People grooving at a backyard beer-and-brat fest to “European Son” (off “The Velvet Underground & Nico”)? Unlikely, though awesome on a galactic scale if it ever actually happened.
I’ll spare you any “meaning” of Lou Reed and try to keep it brief. For this listener — discovering the artist in the late ‘80s — Reed’s music was raw and vital. That experience hasn’t diminished over time.
Much has been made of the transgressive nature of Reed’s lyrics, the dark materials of his art, the discordant noise that was a tool in the Lou Reed toolbox (Note: Reed’s overall effect is way more ear-friendly and tuneful than press shorthand suggests.) Shocking? To a degree, though probably more so between 1967 and 1973, the era of the Reed-fronted Velvets and his early solo spark. Circa 2013, “Venus in Furs” still offers transport to the seedy unknown. It also has to compete with the Internet.
Listened to as a body of work, Lou Reed’s output seems less taboo-baiting and more the music of a man keenly observant. He saw the violent and the mundane, knew contentment and dread and love and need. He seemed to enjoy a walk in the park, and riding his motorcycle. To borrow without permission from Johnny Cash’s estate, Lou Reed kept his eyes wide open all the time.
For those discovering Reed — as I did as a teen — the feeling is of finding music altogether real. Lou manhandled pop songcraft to his own ends. The result was music ranging from harrowing to lovely in the course of an album (“The Blue Mask” comes to mind) and even a single song. For 40 years, listeners bathing in the warm waters of “Perfect Day” have had to towel off the chill of “You’re going to reap just what you sow.”
That’s Lou for you.
Scott Weisser is the entertainment editor at The Goshen News. Not fond of New Year’s resolutions, he’s nonetheless decided that 2014 will be the year he listens to Lou Reed’s “Metal Machine Music” start to finish, no interruptions. Just to see if Lou Reed is a genius, a joker, or both.