Lou Reed is gone. His number was up, and he’s left his body, his partner Laurie Anderson, his family and friends, and all of his listeners, and gone to the spiritual world. Lou was an important figure in my life as a teenager, so I would like to pay tribute to him with this post today.
From age sixteen until nearly twenty, Lou Reed was one of my heroes. His songs affected me on many levels with his intensity, ability to juxtapose the joys and highs of being young, with the depths of darkness and suffering that every human sooner or later must face. Though my record collection was small, it contained half a dozen records by Lou Reed, both with the Velvet Underground and solo albums. I played them continually during those first years of leaving home to live with my wannabe rock star boyfriend, Andy. He and I shared our love and admiration for Lou, along with our love of rock music, getting high, and being young. During the two years we stayed together, Lou Reed’s music was my anthem, his presence like a kind of guardian angel in my world. He epitomized the qualities I admired in a human being at the time: outrageousness, sassiness, arrogance, intelligence, humor, worldliness, sarcasm, wit; as well as compassion, a poet’s heart, a lover’s soul.
Lou was tough, the toughest kind of New Yorker imaginable. There wasn’t anything he hadn’t seen or tried, or so my young mind and heart believed. And strong. He had kicked being a heroin addict cold turkey, and to me then, nothing could be more difficult, more of a triumph of human strength. He had been through heaven and hell and back to tell the tale to the rest of us. Lou was my hero, a kind of god, really, and each time I put on one of his albums, I worshipped him and what he stood for anew.
Lou’s music inspired not just one generation of listeners, but has stood the test of time. Young musicians today are creating beautiful, deeply soulful, sometimes painfully honest music inspired by Lou Reed. His album Berlin was probably his most tortured statement about the shadow sides of humanity, filled with songs about betrayal, sexual debauchery, drug addiction, suicide: the stuff of catharsis. Perhaps because I listened to Berlin every day for nearly a year at one point, I was able to live into those human dramas without acting any out for myself. Those songs were filled with angst, with the searing pain of suffering in a human body, of the tortures of the soul. The melancholy of my own young soul resonated with the stories he told so ingeniously through those songs.
Conversely, the other album I listened to (also every day during that period) was my very favorite: Rock and Roll Heart. Here was a lighter, more joyful Lou, joyfully banging on his drum, singing songs and dancing to the great tunes of the day. At the time, I knew every word to every song on that album.
Lou’s music lifted my soul and also brought my to my knees. He was a master storyteller and consummate musician. He met the world at a particular point in history, when his own hunger met the word’s need. Many musicians knew how to play rock music, but for me, no one could do it quite as well as Lou.
Jenny said when she was just bout’ five years old
Hey you know there’s nothin’ happenin’ at all
Not at all
Every time I put on the radio,
You know there’s nothin’ goin’ down at all,
Not at all
But one fine mornin’ she hears a New York station
She doesn’t believe what she heard at all
Hey, not at all
She started dancin’ to that fine fine music
You know her life was saved by rock ‘n’ roll
Lou Reed is no longer here with us among the living, but his music will live on. The threads of hope and despair, of razor sharp honesty and deep compassion that ran throughout his musical life will continue to inspire and inform future generations of young musicians across the world. The raw power and energy of his live versions of Sweet Jane and Heroin will keep Lou in his rightful place as the grandfather of punk, the progenitor of a particular kind of rock music. I honor the light that burned so brightly and so deeply in Lou Reed’s soul, and echo his immortal words to himself and the world today:
“I guess I’m just dumb, cuz I know I ain’t smart, but deep down inside I’ve got a Rock and Roll heart.” Thanks, Lou, for sharing your beautiful heart with the rest of us.