Lou Reed was special though. Like many kids my age, my first introduction to Lou Reed was in 1972 when he released his classic "Walk on the Wild Side". It was a song that was instantly likable. It had a soft smooth rock beat to it that slowly built then faded away again. The words were edgy and pushed the song right up to the limit of being to edgy for air play. It would be the only time that Lou Reed saw the top 40 in his career.
As my peers and myself fell in love with that song, we began to wonder who this Lou Reed was and we searched out his older material. I remember the first song I heard of Lou Reed's other than "Walk on the Wild Side" was a song called "I'm Waiting for My Man". This song was more what, I would come to realize, the style of Lou Reed. It was raw electric rock. It had a heavy fast beat and was meant to be played a little on the high side of the volume knob. The lyrics to it were very edgy as it told the story about a boy going into the black part of New York City and waiting for his drug dealer to show up and make a delivery. This is what Lou Reed was about for the majority of his career.
Lou Reed was New York personified. New York ran through his veins and everything that seemed tied to Reed and his music was also tied to New York. He started out as a youngster writing pop songs for others to sing. They were not very good pop songs and for the most part, none of us have probably heard them very often if at all. There something magic about to happen to Lou Reed though as he worked his way through New York looking for a way to express himself. When he turned that corner another icon would discover Reed.
That other icon was Andy Warhol. Andy Warhol was just breaking out into the pop art world. HE was becoming famous with his modern art that looked like no one else's. Warhol was an original and he liked to keep himself in the company of other originals..Warhol had a loft in New York called "The Factory" and it was here where he did most of his painting and his film works. He invited Reed up to the factory, made one of his famous screen tests of Reed, as he did with almost everyone who visited the loft, and began a friendship with Reed. When Andy found out that Lou Reed and John Cale were musicians he encouraged them to make a house band for the factory. The two men did get a band together and began writing songs that appealed to them, not the pop songs that Reed had been writing.
Warhol listened to a few songs and encouraged the band to get rougher, edgier, push the limits and that is just what they did. Andy came to love the music and the band, which became known as the Velvet Underground was born. Warhol continued to encourage the band and introduced them to a tall blonde model named Nico. The sound was raw and edgy and sounded like no other band at the time. It created it's own unique New York sound. When the Velvet Underground finally recorded it's first album, Warhol did the artwork for the cover. It was a simple white cover with a plastic banana that could be peeled off and placed anywhere on the album that the owner wanted it to be. After the initial release of the album with the original Warhol artwork, the banana would simply be printed on the album cover.
Things started to spin around the band and the factory. Drugs of all types were encouraged there and were available. Nico eventually died as did many other factory residents, like Edie Sedgewick. Then came the crash that would change eveything. Warhol died. The factory stumbled a long a little while but without Warhol, there was no glue to keep things humming along the way it use to. It wasn't long until Reed and Cale to the Velvet Underground out on it's own and recorded an album or two that did not get any notice at all.
It was then that Lou Reed and John Cale split and Lou Reed cut his first solo recording and "Walk on the Wild Side" was born. People began buying the album and soon discovered that the Lou Reed sound was a mixture of different styles. The west coast did not embrace Reed but the East coast, especially the New York/New Jersey areas fell in love with him. He became a regular at New York night clubs preferring not to actually tour but to stay in New York and simply play his music, the music he loved so much.
That was how he started and how he became known and grew into a national Rock and Roll star. Lou Reed did not care what people thought of his music. He did not care what people thought of his voice or his edgy words that made the songs what they were. Interviewers were likely to get lectured from Lou Reed for asking stupid questions. His reviewers in the New York Papers did not phase him if they gave his recording a bad review. Lou Reed was being Lou Reed and this was his music, take it or leave it. He was one of those magic poets who had a talent for using words to explain feelings and to tell the right from wrong. He was in the class of Bob Dylan and Neil Young and would create his own following that never left Lou Reed. The following grew as Reed grew and as he began to age a whole new generation began discovering Lou Reed and the Velvet Underground. His songs never lost their meaning or their effect on society as a whole.
Lou Reed became a model for a lot of singers that would come later. His influence on the world of music and rock in general will forever hold it's place. There will always be a little of Lou Reed when a new band comes out with that rough edgy sound. You can hear a little of Lou Reed in the work of Bruce Springsteen for example.
Yesterday, Lou Reed did not pass away at age 71. Lou Reed died and he happened to be 71. He died.
|Lou Reed and Nico 1965|
|Lou Reed and Andy Warhol|
|Andy Warhol Album Artwork for the Velvet Underground|
|Lou Reed at the beginning of his elder statesman years|
|Lou Reed, age 71 2013|
For all of us music lovers out here, who have listened to Lou Reed's music all these many years, there is a hole left in the music world that doesn't occur often. Every artist that dies leaves a hole of some size or other but there are those whose deaths leave gigantic holes that will never be replaced or forgotten. Lou Reed left one of those hole, along with John Lennon, Hank Williams, Buddy Holly, Johnny Cash, and Jimi Hendrix among others.
The Lou Reed hole will never be filled.