Rolling Stone magazine is reporting that Lou Reed has died . RIP, and our condolences to his loved ones, including his wife Laurie Anderson.
I mainly know Reed through his Velvet Underground work, i.e., I had not yet got around to extensively listening to his solo stuff.
And very impressive work it is. His lyrical accomplishment, which I guess I would summarize as finding a place between pop-lyric and poetry (short-story craftsman Raymond Chandler was an influence, if I recall), gets overshadowed by that of Dylan, but it proved sturdier, really, and late 60s and early 70s rock would have been less pretentious had more folks imitated Reeds lyrical style than went hog-wild with Dylans various tricks and baroque tacks.
Unlike Dylan, and a number of other Boomer-era mega stars like Bowie or Baez, Reed didnt strike me as having aged well, wisdom-wise, especially from a postmodern conservative perspective. A certain lack of humility, and a certain daftness about contemporary times. A couple of times Reed has said crude things expressing mystification about the mere existence of political and religious conservatives, for instance. Thats a bit childish, NYC parochialism , I would call it, perhaps related to his marrying Laurie Anderson, who despite her genuinely imaginative approach to performance art and music, began nursing a pretty boring political side in the 90s.
But I dont know much about the later Lou Reed story, and theres simply no denying that at the height of his artistry in the 60s and 70s he had his minds eye bent forward to what was coming around the corner for all of us. This is not to endorse his brand of realism from the perspective of artistic ethics, just to say that so many of his songs from those years seem definitive statements. They easily fit my Songbooks preference for songs that are both symbols and poems.
My Songbook has so far only dealt with one of them, though, “Sunday Morning.”
I dont know what his song The Ocean means, and the you-tube videos of it misquote it lyrics, but alongside Sunday Morning, its perhaps the song for today. Together they have the necessary feel and tone for funereal reflections, one more pantheistic, the other more Christian. As any reader of Reed knows, the apparently religious moments found in third Velvet Underground album, the beautiful Jesus, and the really uplifting Im Beginning to See the Light, are his experiments with character voiceshes showing us he knows what that feeling is, but that hes above it, or otherwise cannot feel it himself.
As for the musical contribution, I will leave it to the testimony to others. Songs of others, that is.
Heres Jonathan Richman for one, to present the case for The Velvet Undergound’s rock minimalism in as chirpy and funny a way as possible, but of course, given Richmans own employment of that sound in his killer early 70s rock band The Modern Lovers, its a serious case nonetheless:
Jonathan Richman, Velvet Underground
And heres my favorite VU-influenced artist of late, the great Cate Le Bon, whos debt to Syd Barrett and Nico is often emphasized, when its really more owed to Reed and the VU. Keep an eye out for her new album and tour very soon.
Cate Le Bon, What Is Worse
Heres the key VU-imitating 80s art student band, Felt, with Cathedral
And heres some band I never heard of until today, Holiday Ghost , doing good and very-loyal versions of The Ocean and What Goes On.
All for now . . . . . . oh, and dont forget, Mr. Reed knew a thing or two about how to rock n roll . Can forget that amid all the decadent grandeur and artiness . . . Inside of Your Heart is more evidence of this, and of an infectious sense of humor to boot.
P.S. What’s your favorite Velvet Underground or Lou Reed song? Cover versions are fine.