As we hurtle towards the end of the year with no way of applying the brakes, life again shows its cruel hand by taking another artistic great. I’m still taking in the grim news of Lou Reed’s passing at the end of October, but able to reflect on the legacy of the man and the mighty body of incredible recorded work he has left us. Through albums ranging from The Velvet Underground & Nico to Transformer and onto later career classic, New York, he explored every facet of the urban human experience – melodies that stay with you and lyrics with humour, pathos and the darkest literary noir.
I was lucky enough to catch him live twice at Glastonbury in the early nineties, once solo and once with the reformed Velvets. This later reformation was criticised by many but I enjoyed their take on the classic line up. I remember at the solo gig almost missing the start of his set as I wandered slowly from the tent area. Luckily, being young and vaguely fit in those days, I was able to break into a sprint upon hearing the opening chords of Sweet Jane strike up from the Pyramid main stage. The set was a mix of classics and cuts from New York and Magic and Loss and I bought a bootleg from the nearby stall which in those days (1992) was knocking out CASSETTES within the hour for fans to take away and relive their Glastonbury experience upon returning home.
A couple of years earlier in my final year at University in London somehow I was allowed to write about indie music, the Mad-chester scene and youth culture for my dissertation. In the second chapter I wrote enthusiastically, if rather badly, about the ongoing influence and importance of The Velvet Underground in the development of the UK indie music scene of the eighties, reflected in the music, style and attitudes of bands such as The Jesus & Mary Chain, Echo & The Bunnymen and The House of Love. On the strength of this hastily thrown together tome I was offered the chance to give a lecture the following year but ran away scared. At that time I was using my degree to full advantage as a courier and pretended my van had broken down in Brighton the night before and was thus stranded there. What a coward. How different would my life be now if I’d taken the brave step to share my knowledge and appreciation of Lou et al. Maybe I could have blossomed into the role of a Uni lecturer with my beard and cardigan elbow patches earning a legitimate position in the workplace. Somewhere in a parallel universe I’m leaning on my finger steeple discussing Lou’s Berlin song cycle with over keen wide eyed under grads.
Lou Reed helped paint a picture of New York for me along with the likes of Woody Allen and Paul Simon. The picture these very different artists painted still holds a huge cultural hold over me and I can’t help but lap up the tales of their city.
Lou made music to lose yourself in, to challenge you, to laugh with and to be moved by. We will always need these attributes in our art and our lives and for these reasons his work will live on.
DS, Sheffield, December 2013