Lou Reed 1942 – 2013
Innovators are rare, people who change the course of musical history rarer still.
I remember the first time I heard the Velvet Underground. It was during a period in my mid teens when I was taking a break from obsessing over Nirvana to discover 60s and 70s rock. Trading mixtapes with friends, one had included ‘Venus In Furs’ and ‘These Days’, sandwiching them between Nick Drake and The Doors. For months and months, I listened to almost exclusively music thought up between 1967 and 1972: Led Zeppelin’s first four albums, Pink Moon, The Times They Are A-Changing and Blonde on Blonde, The Doors’ self-titled debut, Tommy, After The Gold Rush, but nothing was as captivating as The Velvet Underground and Nico. Listening to that album, suddenly you realised where everyone, EVERYONE, got their vibe.
Every generation thinks it has reinvented the wheel musically, but these albums were doors to the past slamming open and revealing a Narnia of music and sounds and melodies and vibes and tones and chords and emotions and mystery. The tiers of politics, drugs, sexuality were musically seductive. The Velvet Underground were cooler than everyone, cooler than The New York Dolls or The Ramones or Nirvana or The Sex Pistols or The Stone Roses or whoever else tried to out-cool them. But it’s the sound that made Lou Reed’s music amazing. Completely imperfect, it instantly creates an atmosphere of woozy escapism, telling stories of a city life that was over and a scene that was dead. That record would stay with me my whole life. Years later, I bought a necklace of Warhol’s banana at a flea market in London. It always seemed weird to me that Warhol, the king of commodifying art would be synonymous with Reed whose authenticity was his calling card. But I guess anything can happen in New York.