Sunday, October 27, 2013

FTT Off-Topic: Lou

Not sports and yada yada. It's my blog and I get to free-lance. Lou Reed passed today at the age of 71, and, well, that just sucks.

I don't know if you know Lou for anything beyond "Walk on the Wilde Side", and given that was a very long time ago, I'm not even sure that you know that song, despite it being an incredibly long-lasting and utterly incomprehensible #1 hit. But there aren't more than a half dozen musicians, ever, that had more of an impact on my life. And if you are willing to listen to the man's catalog, he'll have the same impact on yours.

In the '60s, Reed starts by going to Syracuse University, my school. It didn't have that much of an impact on my decision, but it made the place more bearable, really. I went to the same pizza places that he went to, and felt better about my decision for being there. I got introduced to his music in high school through the writings of Lester Bangs, and wound up getting into the Velvet Underground and his solo work all throughout college. Lou's "Metal Machine Music" is, in no small way, directly related to my first marriage, in that the woman wanted a copy of it, and I had one and had talked to people about it. Something of a clue, that, but I wasn't one for clues in my '20s.

For the past two decades, Lou has been in my tape collection, then my CDs, iPod and Pandora. He's still there, of course, and probably isn't ever leaving. And even if he did leave, he'd still be there in the work of dozens of other bands, all of which share a lineage with the Velvets, or from solo acts that took his trademark confessional / street poet style and built their own work on it. He's there in every band that's not afraid to drone if it serves the lyric, and in every writer who doesn't shy away when first person gets brutal.

What Lou does with lyrics is beyond confessional. He would build these simple structures out of planks, as it were, just unadorned simple words and phrases, never going into cliche, but always reaching in the profound. His signature piece, "Heroin", is simultaneously the best advertisement and worst warning against the use of the drug, and his political work in "New York" somehow resonates decades after the personalities mentioned are long faded from the scene.

Which isn't to say, of course, that he was infallible. Like all musicians, poor choices were mixed in with the solid work over the years. For every "Magic and Loss" and "Set the Twilight Reeling" there was the sad miss of "The Bells" or "The Raven", and he tended to go back to the harrowing well that is "Berlin" or "MMM." The co-project with Metallica was wince-inducing, and there were too many live albums and best ofs and Velvet reunions and Honda and Sony ads to befit a legend.

But all of that, of course, fades in the face of his best work, and his pairings with Robert Quine (also no longer with us) that speak strongest to me. Such as "Rock and Roll", which I first heard on a graveyard free-form radio show in the middle of the night in high school.

From there, take a spin with a song that should have never, ever been used to sell video games, seeing how it comes from the most harrowing album ever. (Seriously, if you can listen to "Berlin" without getting destroyed on some level... you aren't listening.)

Next, well, "Heroin." I've heard it too many times to give it the power it deserves, but that's my problem, not the song's.

Lou wasn't always devastating. This one never fails to make me smile. And it's a great dirty guitar riff. "I got statistics, I got stats."

Next, the song people should be listening to on the the news of his passing, because it might be the best thing ever said about the end of life.

There are dozens of others, but these are my five today. Pass through the fire to the light.

P.S. Forgot one; probably his best work with Quine.

Look me in the eye, indeed.

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