One or two of my friends have expressed surprise that I haven’t commented on the sad death of Lou Reed. Clearly I was as influenced by his music as anyone else of my generation. But I wonder, what can I say?
Recalling my distant youth, The Velvet Underground arrived like a bolt to the brain. Dirty, subversive and directly connected to the late sixties counter-culture. It was compelling stuff.
I was too young to fully understand what it was all about but it somehow chimed perfectly with the world I was reading about – Ginsberg, Kerouac, Cassidy, Warhol, Dylan…
In fact The Velvets and their magnificently moody lead singer Lou Reed could never be so neatly boxed. They were neither beats nor psychedelic voyagers. They were purveyors of disaffected angst delivering a rage against the world with a droning sound overlaid with the flat expressionless vocals of Reed and sometimes (early on) the inimitable Nico.
By the time Lou was making solo albums I had him down as as a 24 carat mischief-maker. There was some good stuff, some bad stuff and some downright abominations. He was undoubtedly a game-changer. Mostly though he got press for being utterly awkward. I never encountered him face to face. For those who did it could apparently be a withering ordeal. May I suggest that this may be because of a curious syndrome identified by Reed’s near contemporary Frank Zappa who once said: Most rock journalism is people who can’t write, interviewing people who can’t talk, for people who can’t read.”
Now I realise that, given the chance, I might well have blown it too. I’ve certainly asked my fair share of “brilliant” questions that turned out to be “stupid”. However, I suspect that asked something seriously relevant, Reed would have been absolutely fine, if a little left-field.
He didn’t suffer fools gladly which was definitely a drawback for someone who plied their trade in the world of entertainment, whether artistic or populist. I remember once talking about Lou with the late Ian Dury who had spent sometime touring the US as his support act. I was astonished when Ian described the underground legend as “a typical pot-bellied young man”. In 1977-78, that was NOT what you expected to hear about Lou Reed. Little did I know at the time that Reed treated the Blockheads like shit but I still thrilled at Dury’s tale of how he’d got visiting Rolling Stones Keith Richards and Ronnie Wood to un-tune all of Reed’s guitars. Ha ha! That of course is where Lou would have had the last laugh. No one would have noticed!