On October 27th at 11:46 AM, I opened a text that said “Lou Reed died”. After reading it, I immediately felt a plunge in my chest and realized I was actually crying. I knew I loved Lou Reed but I had no idea how much he meant to my life until I read that text message. The only other artists I’ve ever cried for are Etta James and Elliott Smith. Elliott Smith’s death hit me like a sledgehammer; I opened the newspaper and saw a picture of him in his white suit on the upper corner of the front page. In excitement, I turned to the article and was completely blindsided in the middle of my High School Economics class as I read he’d stabbed himself in the heart twice. Amid all of the dates I can’t remember, I have never forgotten Elliott Smith died on October 21, 2003.
My interests swim all over the place. I pick up a hobby, hang out with it for a while and then drop it and move on. I’ve always been this way, just bouncing around trying to learn a little about everything because I’m interested in more than I can squish in to this life. Music is one of the very few things in my life that I’ve stuck with since the moment I realized how much I truly needed it and never has there been a moment when it wasn’t entirely significant to my well-being. It took me a while to summon the proper words for Lou Reed because he has been a major part of my growth as a person and as a music lover, and I still don’t know where to start.
When you live the most vulnerable part of your life with your emotions on the front line infantry, you’re inevitably going to have some internal scarring. Thus far in my emotional journey, I can count on one hand, the bands/artists that have truly nurtured the wounds suffered on that battlefield and The Velvet Underground is one of them.
During a miserable bout of a “what does it all mean” crisis in my late teens/early twenties (before you could just downloaded music from home), I came across a copy of The Velvet Underground’s Loaded Fully Loaded Edition at a local record store. Since that day, I have never once considered removing them from my Top 5. For days, maybe even a couple of weeks, I listened the Ride in to the Sun and Sad Song demos and felt my entire life fold into and around itself.
Unfortunately, while I do enjoy Reed’s solo work (who couldn’t love Transformer and Berlin), my love lies in the late 60’s and early 70’s VU albums. Candy Says, Stephanie Says, Louise, Pale Blue Eyes, I Found a Reason, I’m Set Free, Who Loves the Sun, Sunday Morning… the list just goes on an on. These are songs I have worn out, made terrible life decisions to and redeemed myself to. I feel like the Velvet Underground has been playing in the background of my life since I first let them into my weird little world.
Lou Reed made sense in the fog of drugs and liquor, in the loneliness and depression of solitude and introversion and in moments of absolute joy and bliss. His music is like an emotional chameleon that promises comfort and understanding because his pain is your pain and his words are your life. And I still feel this way. There isn’t a single emotion that can’t be emphasized by listening to the poetry of his own experiences.
The musicians he influenced and the music he has inspired are endless lists of amazing talent. To think that without Lou Reed there would be no David Bowie (another top fiver), I can’t even imagine what sort of turmoil my emotions would be in. But still, in spite of all of his glory and his inspiration, one of greatest things about Lou Reed is that he somehow always manged to hold on to that “cool guy” persona that he greeted the music world with.
He remained ageless with the greats that died young like Hendrix and Joplin. The name Lou Reed never drew to a mind a picture of an aged musician struggling to be hip. Just sunglasses and a black jacket. Lou Reed was a rare bird that glided gracefully across the generations and his significance remains untouched by time just like Johnny Cash and Hunter S. Thompson. He was a pillar of the music world and the hole left by his death is as significant as the torch lit by his life.
The generation of music that truly changed music is slowly beginning to crumble and break apart and it’s incredibly painful to watch and experience. But like great literature, there will be those that refuse to be forgotten and Lou Reed lives among them.