Ramble On

Friday, November 1, 2013

Lou Reed (a tribute)

You can always play a Hank Williams song, you can always play a Beatles song, and you can always play a Lou Reed song. - Beck

It’s already been a full work week since we first had the news that Lou Reed had passed away of a liver ailment at 71.  Rock and Roll critics were the first to respond with obituaries – those began showing up on Monday morning and Tuesday, and I’ve paused to read them whenever I noticed them.  Then my friend Tom put up a Facebook status recounting the experience of meeting Reed in person twice at venues in New York city; by Thursday, personal tributes began to reach the media, including a post by Beck, and another – a letter to fans – by Laurie Anderson, Reed’s wife. 

My own first reaction was to think about when I first encountered Lou Reed as an artist.  That would have been when the song “Walk on the Wild Side” was a Top 40 hit – I wasn’t sure what the song was about, but we listened to that 45 over and over, singing along to “…and the colored girls sing ‘do-te-do, te-do, te-do, do-te-do…’” A few years later, when the meaning of life was all coming together for me, I would think about this song while walking to Faustos in Key West along Duval Street on the morning after Halloween, enjoying the stories about all the parades and parties that had taken place there.

The second thing I did after hearing the news was to head down to the basement for a look at my vinyl LP collection.  There I found seven Lou Reed records, some bought in Berlin, and some at a used record store in Tampa.  I figure I have a couple of CDs around, and I know that I made a cassette of VU that I used to play on the Walkman back in the day. 

Lou Reed was one of a group of artists who had a strong connection to Berlin while I was there in the 1980’s, which happened to be some formative years for my taste in music.  We looked for DavidBowie and Iggy Pop mementos (check out the label Bowie Quest at the end of this post as an example), and of course there was the Lou Reed album entitled “Berlin.” Among these thoughts was the trip into Kruezberg with Tony Orth to a record store I’d never found before so he could pick up a copy of the first Velvet Underground record – the one with Nico and the Warhol banana on the cover.

Since then I learned about all the artists who point to Lou Reed as an influence.  There was a quote by Brian Eno in the early obits about how the Velvets didn’t sell a lot of records in those first years, but everyone who bought the early pressings of the first record probably eventually bought a guitar and started a band.  Some artists that were listed in that Rolling Stone obit included David Bowie, Ric Ocasek, Chrissie Hynde, U2, Sonic Youth, and R.E.M. – I found that I have LPs or CDs by each one of these artists.

I listened to Lou Reed’s 1989 release “New York” over and over again – I kept the CD in the car and listened to it on my drive to work. When I made my first trek up to New York for a weekend, driving up the NJT with my friends Kelly and Mark, that was part of the soundtrack.  “Give me your tired, your poor – and I’ll piss on them!” we sang along.

It’s cliché to say it, but Lou Reed’s music is part of the pop culture fabric for someone my age.  He’d rank up there in the top 5 or so favorites if I was inclined to put together such a list.  I was sad to hear the news of his passing – but I have taken a few minutes here and there this week to find YouTube clips of his performances of favorite songs.  I found that clip of Perfect Day that I had never seen or heard before.  

So even though he's gone, I guess I still have a lot to discover about Lou Reed's influence.  

Post script.  After I wrote the original posts, I had a couple of other recollections I wanted to add.

Around the time of my trip to NYC, when we sang along with Dirty Boulevard, a few friends formed a band called the Despondent Astronauts and played local venues in Adams Morgan and the emerging U Street corridor.  They did a few VU covers, including Pale Blue Eyes and Femme Fatale as we followed them around back then.

During the U2 Zoo TV tour (in 1992, I think) - this is the stadium tour where they'd brought along all the East German Trabbie cars as part of the stage set - Bono sang a cover of Satellite of Love.  He was out on one of those islands they create to get the band closer to the crowd, and suspended above him was one of the trabbies.  He took a rope that was attached to it and gave it a spin - so the satellite above remained in orbit for the rest of the song.

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