by Jon Warhol
Rock legend Lou Reed died on Sunday Oct 27, 2013. I remember where I am and what I’m doing at the moment I found out one of my heroes passed – first George Carlin, then Christopher Hitchens, now Lou. Today, I’ll never forget how I opened my facebook tab to check for notifications and the first thing on my news feed, posted only seconds ago by the page “I bet I can’t find 100,000 people who know John Cale!”, announced the passing of an icon who not only had an enormous effect on the world of music, but my life and musical taste.
I’ll also never forget how scared I felt the first time I heard “Walk on the Wild Side” on the radio driving to high school one morning. It is by no means a “scary song,” but let me give some perspective: I was a young and impressionable high schooler with innocent ears, whose music taste was mainly classic rock influenced by my dad and surf music. There was something about Reed’s anti-singing that left me awestruck and unable to turn the dial. Lou’s signature cooler-than-cool NYC deadpan voice spoke of blowjobs, transvestites, drugs, colored girls and things I was too young to totally get and characters years before my time. As soon as I got home, I did research and found he was in a band called The Velvet Underground and decided to give them a listen. If “Walk on the Wild Side” scared me, you can only imagine what sort of madness was going through my head as I sat through “Heroin.” Like the effect of the drug Lou sang about, after just one listen, I was hooked.
Throughout his half-century career, Lou has had personal and musical high high’s and low low’s. No matter what direction he took himself and his music, he did so in a unique and artistic way. From the commercial glam rock of Transformer to the hour-long white noise of Metal Machine Music to the spoken word of The Raven to ambient meditation music from Hudson River Wind Meditations, Lou produced an incredibly long and diverse body of work. As the Velvet Underground’s principal songwriter, he created four studio albums, two bootleg albums and four live albums worth of material. As a solo artist, he made 22 solo records, 12 live albums and 44 singles. I own a good amount of his work, but still have a lot to go if I want to complete my collection. Whether or not you enjoy every single piece of his work, there is no denying he has been one of Rock’s most prolific and prominent composers.
He is one of very few, if not the only, to have made it onto both Rolling Stone’s lists of greatest singers and greatest guitarists of all time. It could be argued that without Lou Reed, David Bowie’s career would not have taken off the way it did, glam rock would not have happened and there would be no industrial music. However he is critically remembered, it is important to remember that historically speaking, Reed furthered Rock as being taken as a serious art form. He sung about topics considered risqué and taboo for his time but continually insisted that no one would find it weird if his lyrics were printed in a novel or a film script.
Reed’s artsy and non-radio-friendly songs have had the greatest impact on me. Even today you may never hear “Heroin,” “Venus in Furs,” “Street Hassle” or any number of his best works on the radio, but the noisier and more profane his compositions can be, the more beautiful I find them. I can’t even begin to think about amount of time, from the first time I heard “Walk on the Wild Side” to the present, how many hours/days/weeks I have spent listening to, buying, thinking about, talking about, reading about, researching, playing and enjoying Lou’s music. In the midst of all the “RIP LOU!” messages, tweets and whatevers by fans and celebrities, perhaps the short yet moving message by Reed’s life-long friend and band mate, John Cale, holds the greatest impact: “The world has lost a fine songwriter and poet…I’ve lost my ‘school-yard buddy’”.
Although I did not know him anywhere near the level John Cale did, I feel in a way, I too have lost a friend – a friend who left me more than 50 years’ of music to discover and further impact my life. A great regret will be that I can never see Lou perform live. His legacy and songs will not just live on in my heart, but in the heart of anyone who has ever picked up a guitar.
Long live Lou Reed, and long live Rock n Roll.