Some wandering thoughts on Lou Reed

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.

The many sides of Lou Reed - cover of the 1989 LP 'New York'

The many sides of Lou Reed – cover of the 1989 LP ‘New York’

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.

Lou live at Glastonbury 1992 - Bootleg cassette cover

Lou live at Glastonbury 1992 – Bootleg cassette cover

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.

Enthusiasm trumps quality. Anyone recognise the silhouette?

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

Ray Manzarek – Music and Melody, a personal view

The news of the passing of Ray Manzarek, keyboard player of The Doors, has got me thinking of just how important music has been in my life’s journey.

The foundations of my love of music were prepared and cemented in the seventies and eighties in north west Kent (or South East London if I’m after a bit more street cred).

I was exposed to a diet of Top of The Pops (let’s remember the music not the presenters), both the programme and those cover LPs with scantily clad ladies adorning the sleeves, along with my mother’s love of Elvis, Glenn Campbell and John Denver and my father’s singles collection of The Beatles, The Hollies and The Everly Brothers.

The first singles I bought were Don’t Bring Me Down by ELO in 1979, closely followed by Someone’s Looking At You by The Boomtown Rats.  Moving through secondary school The Beatles were all I could think about until bands like The Jam, The Cure, U2, REM, The Smiths, The Pogues, Billy Bragg and Echo & The Bunnymen all began sinking their hooks into my forming musical consciousness.

Somewhere along the line the music of The Doors snuck in and grabbed me around the earlobes.  I think it may have been my older cousin in County Mayo, who first introduced me to them on one of my many childhood visits to the west of Ireland as a youngster.

I can remember sitting in the sixth form of my secondary school sharing sounds on the communal record player during yet another ‘free period’….  no wonder the exam results went down the toilet.  All of a sudden it seemed everyone I knew was listening to The Doors.  This was twenty years after the fact, yet somehow they spoke to those of us who were becoming obsessed with music.

The initial appeal was obvious; Jim Morrison’s cool front man snaking his way into your brain, all bravado, poetry, sex appeal and of course the rock ‘n’ roll death only added to his draw.  Then there was the music, those wonderful keyboard lines, providing cascading melodies that carried the songs, both underpinning and sometimes outshining the brooding vocals.  It’s worth remembering Ray was also responsible for many of The Doors’ bass lines, both on the earlier recordings and live, playing these parts on an alternative keyboard, a master of counterpoint.

In the late eighties my first band tried to copy Echo & The Bunnymen and U2’s habit of breaking into other artists’ songs during the middle of one of their own, doing a very poor version of Break on Through (To The Other Side) – I shudder at the thought.

So, fast forward twenty five years and the news is reporting the death of Ray Manzarek.  His legacy is one of melody, and melody has been the driving force in my love of music, inspiring me to seek out new music and to continue to play for the joy it can bring.

DS, The Janskys, Sheffield