“Ordered sound is music. My life is music.”
Lou Reed (March 2, 1942 – October 27, 2013)
Lou Reed is gone.
And with him, it seems, all of my Lou Reed albums. My nephew is at the top of my list of suspects, a list which extends to precisely one.
That’s okay, I guess. The kid has excellent taste. And most of my Bowie albums too.
“The giants are falling,” the writer and broadcaster John Kelly said to me last night. He’s right. I suppose we’re at that time, horrible as it is to think. John, of course, has lost more than a musical hero. He was friends with Lou. Imagine that. Lou Reed. Every interviewer’s nightmare. The legendary stuff of bad-tempered, uncommunicative disasters. If I remember the story, Kelly gave as good as he got on their first encounter and the two of them got along like a house on fire. “A sweetheart,” was Kelly’s verdict on the man who would send him a card every Christmas.
Lou was a part of the soundtrack of my life from very early. That I stop and think about it, I actually can’t believe “Walk on the Wild Side” was a song that received regular airplay in my childhood. This was a song with blatant references to homosexuality, bisexuality, transvestitism, prostitution, oral sex and hard drugs. Thirty years ago. In Ireland. Where homosexuality remained a crime until 1993. It was a great tune, one of the first I remember lodging in my ear. Although I do remember the lyrics making me go “Hang on, what?”
The first vinyl copy I bought of “The Velvet Underground and Nico” is battered and warped now but I’ve resisted for years the urge to throw it away. And I’m damned if I will now.
Lou Reed passed away on the 27th of October 2013 at the age of 71. Rolling Stone called him “a massively influential songwriter and guitarist who helped shape nearly fifty years of rock music“. That’s putting it mildly. I can’t believe he’s gone. It’s like hearing New York isn’t there anymore.
For me, Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue” will always evoke New York City in the first half of the 20th century and anything by Lou will summon up the rest of it. He captured a seedy, seamy, vivid world of pimps, pushers and hustlers, a New York that I knew in sanitised form, third-hand and tamed, from the garish streetscapes of 1970’s Marvel comics. “Midnight Cowboy” might encapsulate that era for many, but for me New York looks like Gene Colan drew it and it sounds exactly like Lou Reed.
His was an extraordinary life and he knew it. “All through this, I’ve always thought that if you thought of all of it as a book then you have the Great American Novel, every record as a chapter,” he told Rolling Stone in 1987. “They’re all in chronological order. You take the whole thing, stack it and listen to it in order, there’s my Great American Novel.”
I confess it wasn’t all to my taste, but that’s me. And I suspect Lou knew it wasn’t all genius, but as he famously, humourously(?) said, “My bullshit is worth more than other people’s diamonds.”
I’ll have to change that title. Lou Reed isn’t gone. As long as there’s music and poetry and as long as there’s New York and the idea of New York, Lou Reed will never be gone.
I’ll leave you with Transformer. Which is more than my nephew did.