Like countless others my first exposure to Lou Reed was from the unlikely Top Forty success of Walk on the Wild Side. I was only eleven or twelve years old when somehow program directors in America’s Heartland found it within themselves to squeeze that piece of gritty streetwise doo-wop in between Rock the Boat and Already Gone. When you think about it there’s never really been another hit song like it, one that, if not exactly celebrates, then casually reveals (revels?) a musical portrayal of alternative lifestyles. Only much later did I find out that David Bowie was involved in the song and so perhaps his involvement opened the door for radio to at least give it a listen. After all, Bowie was already enjoying his own popular success at the time.
The first Lou Reed album I bought was New Sensations. In retrospect I doubt that there are too many Lou Reed fans that can say their own long strange trip with the man began with that particular recording from 1984. But I will sheepishly raise my hand and now admit that personally I never particularly cared for the exalted Velvet Underground anthems that so many claim as manna. Sure, I have an appreciation for Sweet Jane, Heroin and Pale Blue Eyes, of Nico and John Cale and the entire Warhol thing, but that just wasn't my experience. And for a time throughout the 80s and 90s (a long time) the VU was so often mentioned as an influence for up and coming bands that I suspected that no one wanted to be left off that hip graffiti-smacked subway train. It almost became a cliché to mention the VU as an influence.
But for me it was You broke my heart and you made me cry and said that I couldn’t dance...
I bought just about every record that followed and would have to state that for me the man’s masterwork was 1989s New York. A complete artistic statement regarding the streets he mostly loved but sometimes loathed and the city's huge role in its representation of the American (mis)Ideal & Dream. It wasn’t all blowjobs in the back alley – there was the statue of bigotry pissin’ all over everybody and NASA even blew up the moon. Straw Man and Dime Store Mystery were both huge musical statements that summarized and punctuated that wonderful recording.
Now the guy was never really a guitar wizard unless you considered the right note at the right time pure genius (I did) and appreciated three or four (sometimes five) chords delivered with feeling and perfect tonal feedback. Yet despite all the grit, all the punk growl and junkie spin, Lou Reed always seemed more than willing to expose his raw and vulnerable side. The fact of the matter is Lou Reed’s music is sweet.
Everybody took their own unique ride with Lou and I took mine on the back of that GPZ cruising through the mountains and the Delaware Gap. We even stopped at a hillbilly diner and had us a burger and a coke. Now I’m not saying my ride was the right one or the best one but it certainly was mine and I fuckin' own it.
I've been reading some tweets about Lou since his death was made public and one stands out. Somebody tweeted I knew his nephew who said he was always looking out windows.
So what was he looking at?
It would be easy to just reply ah hell, who cares, we’ll never know but then again there’s this sprawling musical legacy that he gifted us with which offers rough hints and glorious clues. So although I can say that I have my own suspicions the rest will always remain beautiful conjecture.
Carry on my good man...