About Me

My photo
Washington, DC, United States
I don't write here nearly as much as I should, but when I do, I'll try to make it count for something.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Lou Reed: You Just Keep Me Hangin' On

Have you ever had SO many things that you wanted to blog about that you don't even know which one to start with? I considered giving yet another update on my life and how my family is holding up. I considered posting about my recent holiday blues. I considered posting about all the crock pot successes (and failures) I've had in the last month or so. I considered posting about a recent Huffington Post article I read about Russell Brand that I have quite a lot to say about (and will touch on for certain another time). But eventually the topic that won out for me... Lou Reed and his recent death.

Before I go on what will surely be the sickest, most gush-tastic post on how much this man has influenced my extreme love of rock 'n' roll, I want to say that Lou Reed was not only a great artist. In a lot of ways, he has shaped how I look at music and how I connect to it. I know in the grand scheme of things, especially given the crap year that I've had, this probably shouldn't shatter me as much as it has but few artists have truly touched me as much as he has.

Now, onto the really gushy shit. I'd stop reading now if you don't think you can handle it.

To explain why I love Lou Reed so much, I think I should start by saying that White Light/White Heat was the first tape I ever stole from my oldest brother Patrick, whose musical choices were worshiped by me at a very young age. Now like all music nerds and Velvet Underground lovers, I grew to kind of romanticize this album, but if I have to be completely honest, I didn't love it at first. It's fairly experimental and I was eleven years old when I swiped it. I'd like to sit here and say that even at eleven, I was so much of a music snob that I could appreciate a song like "The Gift" (which, if you are unfamiliar with it, is a tale of promiscuity, jealousy, and a tragic death).... but let's be serious. I was still pretty much obsessed with Madonna and The Bangles at that time and WL/WH isn't exactly the best transitional or accessible album to pick up for a young kiddo.

However, that being said, I became hopelessly obsessed with "Here She Comes Now". I would play it over and over again. Years later, when I'd make mixed tapes for prospective boyfriends and best friends and well, any goddamn person who would let me, it was a song I pretty much always included in there (even though its meaning is relatively ambiguous), regardless of the theme of the mix or why I was making it. When I was in college and a member of what was probably the worst chick band to ever exist on this planet, the first song I ever wanted to learn (well, after "Hey Jude") was "Here She Comes Now". To this day, it's still one of my favorite songs. And as the years of me listening to that song went by, I listened to the whole album as well, many times, until one day I realized how much I had grown to love the whole thing. I don't even know when it happened. But one day, when I was like fourteen years old, I was listening to"Sister Ray" when no one else was home. I turned that sucker up as loud as I wanted and bounced on and around my bed like a maniac for fifteen crazed euphoric minutes, knocking over a lamp and banging my knee on my nightstand. That's what Lou Reed did - he made you feel the music in your gut, in your bones, in your toes, in your fucking blood until you have no choice but to fall into it.

This was music that had no interest in being polished or studio perfect, in placating the masses. It was music that was only interested in making you get lost in it – or maybe even find yourself. But beyond that, it is music that made you realize that it can be more than some catchy tunes with a killer hook and a happy finish. Lou Reed said a lot of amazing things during the 71 years he graced us with his presence but one of the best things he ever said was, “I don’t believe in dressing up reality. I don’t believe in using makeup to make things look smoother.” He believed in getting dirty, expressing truth at all costs, and shoving those truths right in your face. He gave voice to people who were angry or sad or damaged and didn't know how to express it. He was one of music’s glam movement pioneers who gave a community of transgenders a place to fit in – not because it’s OK to be different but because it’s OK to be whoever the fuck you want to be, especially if you’re loud and real and throwing your proverbial (or not so proverbial) crotch at authority. He believed that every single goddamn second of life was important and meant something. He understood hopelessness but he didn't accept it as a reality that anyone needed to live. This all comes through in his music, in his voice, in his words, in his poetry. 

Transformer is one of the most perfect albums ever recorded but for me, it was the rawness and pain and flawed beauty of Berlin that made me really see Lou Reed for the first time. I could go on and on about his time with the Velvet Underground – a band so important to the world of music, it practically birthed other legendary artists like the New York Dolls and the Pixies and Siouxsie and the Banshees and the Sex Pistols and the Stooges. However, when all is said and done, Berlin is and always will be Lou Reed’s masterpiece. After receiving some mainstream adoration for his hit single, “Walk on the Wild Side,” everyone expected him to take his new popularity and run with it. But Lou, as always, was never interested in creating music that was comfortable or expected. He wanted to bear his soul because that’s the only way to produce art that’s worth anything and he didn't care if it sounded pretty. And while Berlin was never quite appreciated in its time nor was it any sort of commercial achievement, I like to believe that he was always proud of what he created there – even though it’s widely known that the harsh reviews it received eventually took its toll on him. Yet, despite the years of under appreciation, Lou Reed was finally able to realize a dream and perform his masterpiece - his rock opera - the way he had always wanted: live and with an entire 30 piece band. I always wished I could have seen one of those shows.

In the end, he was a man who lived hard for a lot of years and eventually realized how much he wanted to stay here, living and creating, for as long as possible. He probably lived longer than he ever thought he would or any of us believed – but that doesn't make his death any less heart wrenching. People get so lost in what they think they should do with their lives and then sometimes you run into a person who just opts to go out there and fucking do it. Really, it’s easy to convince ourselves that we’re not capable of doing this or smart enough to do that. It’s so easy to just get comfortable and put our dreams and desires on a shelf “for another day” even if that day never comes. But a person like Lou Reed can teach us all a lot of lessons about daring to be different, to be brave, and to be expressive. He understood the importance of literature and words but as a means to live, not as a means to escape – and I’m the sort of person who has always been far too comfortable with the concept of escaping from life. Listening to his music, even for a moment, challenges me to… challenge myself. And isn't that the testament of true art? I’ll always be grateful that he brought such diverse and emotionally complex music into my life and opened me up to a whole world of artists who would give me a swift kick in the ass, which is something I truly believe everyone needs from time to time.

And on that note, I’d like to close this post with my favorite song from Berlin, the closing song, which to me is also the quintessential Lou Reed creation – sad, tragic, pain stricken, challenging… the sort of song that gives you a sense of disquiet but somehow also provides a sense of therapeutic relief. It’s also appropriately named and expresses my current heart ache perfectly.

We love you, Lou. You better keep making waves where ever you are right now.