Lou Reed: 1942-2013
Looking back, it’s kind of weird how linear my musical education as a teenager was. Take for instance my first exposure to Lou Reed and The Velvet Underground. At that point, I was very strictly dictating the music I was listening to based on the albums that were high on the Rolling Stone 500 Greatest albums list that came out in 2003. And when you look at the upper part of that list, it’s pretty much pound-for-pound albums that are “classic” in the most impeachable and monolithic way possible. And upon discovering each of these albums, I don’t think I ever questioned their greatness.
However, The Velvet Undergound & Nico was different. Here was an album that was almost 40 years old when I first heard it, and yet it practically challenged me to question what “great music” is. I mean the instruments were frequently out of tune, Lou Reed’s lyrics were weird and kinky, he sounded like he was perpetually on drugs, and then the album didn’t even end with some masterful opus, which I had come to expect from most “great albums”. Instead it ended with seven minutes of pure noise.
I find this eerily coincidental, because this is the exact same effect that Lou Reed’s music had on rock music as a whole. It challenged people. It went in radical directions in terms of subject matter, and completely perplexed people who were accustomed to the peace and love of what they perceived to be the counterculture. And in the process, he basically created what we now see as “cool” or “alternative” or “indie” or whatever you want to call rock music that sits comfortably outside the mainstream.
Of course, this all makes it hard to say anything about Lou Reed that hasn’t already been said, so I’ll just stop trying and say that he was one of the all-time great rock songwriters, and truly a guy that dared to go against the grain and subvert expectations. Which in this time of mourning, couldn’t help but remind me of the Lou Reed composition “Afters Hours”, which has got to be one of the most weirdly hopeful and optimistic songs about death I’ve ever heard. So for now, I guess we’ll just have to close the door…