Lou Reed was such an integral part of rock 'n' roll's coming of age it is hard to know where to start. One of my earliest memories of Lou is from his time with the Velvet Underground. The Underground was a band that absolutely identified itself with its generation. Founded by Lou Reed and John Cale and managed by Andy Warhol, the VU is one of those bands that was never appreciated during its lifetime but is regarded as a standard bearer in the music world today--Rolling Stone lists the Velvet Underground's first four recordings in their Top 500 most influential albums of all time...whaddya know; sometimes Rolling Stone gets it right. But while Reed and Cale went on to successful solo careers, the other members of the band were not so fortunate.
One particular favorite from the Velvet Underground for me is "Heroin." Listening to this song you can feel raw pain as real and hurting as a shovel to the face. The speak/sing delivery Reed provides on vocals makes it almost too life like-- and I can understand why people choose a path that can only lead to self destruction. The up and down tempo makes the images you get in your head fast forward like so many still photographs of a life lost too soon.
When Lou left the Velvet Underground in 1970 he recorded his first solo album with then session musicians Rick Wakeman and Steve Howe...hmmm...Reed went on to record several ground breaking albums; "Transformer" and "Berlin" among them. One of the more peculiar traits Lou had was his ability to follow up any commercial success with equal if not greater failure. The album "Metal Machine Music" is regarded as both complete trash and absolute genius--depending on who you ask. Although Lou defended the album as a serious artistic work, he also acknowledged he was not necessarily "focused" at the time.
Lou Reed has worked with many well known and diverse artists including David Bowie, Patti Smith, David Byrne, Laurie Anderson, The Blind Boys of Alabama, and Ornette Coleman. Reed was a pioneer, radical, punk, poet, artist, singer, songwriter, and visionary. One thing Lou was never accused of was being afraid--he refused to back down from a challenge and always seemed to come out somehow new and refreshed because of or in spite of it. Although he would not take any credit for the punk movement that started in the late 1970's, it is hard to imagine Sid Vicious and Johnny Rotten getting anywhere without Lou Reed having blazed some kind of trail.
On the lesser known side of his persona is a documentary Lou Reed made in 2010, "Red Shirley," about his then 100-year-old cousin. It is 100 years of life packed into 30 incredible minutes...and one more "wild side" of Lou Reed that is fortunately recorded on non-erasable film for everyone to enjoy. When Shirley talks about escaping to Canada before the Nazis "took care" of the rest of her family, you definitely get a sense there is so much more to Lou Reed than meets the eye.
I spent quite a bit of time trying to decide what song to post this week--and whether or not it was even possible to capture any essence of what Lou Reed was about in just one clip. Although that may very well be impossible I do believe I came as close as any mortal human and Lou Reed fan could...so please enjoy this live version of "I'm Waiting For The Man," recorded in 1972. Typical sing/speak in Lou's ironically smooth while sounding dragged-through-a-scotch-bottle voice...there is no substitute.
Keep walking on the wild side Lou; you will be missed forever here but enjoyed eternally there. The band in heaven just got incredibly cool...
I know I barely scratched the surface of what was an amazing career by one of the most influential and yet unassuming artists in the music world. I just felt I would be committing music blasphemy to not recognize one of the greats. I will be back on track next week with another review of new and exciting progressive music. Until then, dim the lights, play some vinyl...and keep on waitin' for the man...