"The first Velvet Underground record may have only sold 1,000 copies, but every person who bought it started a band." Brian Eno I first learned…
“The first Velvet Underground record may have only sold 1,000 copies, but every person who bought it started a band.” Brian Eno
I first learned about the passing of Lou Reed from Facebook.
The news was posted on a page for Bill Camarata, WTAM 1100 veteran and record collector. He said, simply, “Now I feel I must listen to ‘Rock & Roll Animal’ and ‘Metal Machine Music’ in that order.”
I went cold reading his post. It was as if I had lost my older brother.
During my formative years in the 70’s, Reed was much more than a personal hero. Living in New York, he was a gifted countercultural Rabbi, teaching the generation how to thrive in a time controlled by big-money radio and network television. He and Iggy Pop were godlike. The entire Punk/New Wave movement arrived in his wake.
In those yonder days, there was no Internet.
The Velvet Underground made him legendary, with artist Andy Warhol helping to sanctify the group. But Reed’s solo work expanded on that legacy.
His records were rarely played on the air, except for occasional spins of ‘Walk on the Wild Side.’ Yet he resonated with punks and oldsters, alike. From record store to record store, his legend was retold. I heard many stories of his study at Syracuse University. Allegedly, no one wanted to be in his bands. Still, none of us could imagine refusing such an invitation.
He was a Jewish kid from New York. An unaccomplished guitarist, without much vocal prowess. But he wrote free of worldly inhibitions. And he caused us to believe.
Being from Ohio made me a sort of Gentile among the chosen people. New York friends were amused that I took so much meaning from Reed’s body of work. But he spoke to my generation, just as loudly in Cleveland as anywhere in the world. Unlike the slick, overproduced stars of that era, he was genuine. Wonderfully crude and unpolished, like Big Bill Broonzy or Slim Harpo.
We thought of him as a pioneer. His work showed the way. If Reed could find Rock fame, then even the most humble of us could replicate that achievement.
He was the Garage Band King, with the added talent of a wordsmith.
Back home in Geauga County, I spent many nights working in Chardon, with one of his albums on my Sony Walkman. And I began to record demo tracks on the cassette deck at home. His recordings inspired my own. Armed only with a Japanese guitar, I had faith in the genre.
I recorded about five hundred songs.
Years passed, and Reed evolved. He recorded ‘New York’ which was perhaps his most legitimately coherent effort. Later came ‘Magic And Loss’ about the death of friends from cancer. Perhaps the most ‘adult’ album ever produced.
Now, while reading of his own exit, I was watching football. The moment struck me with irony because none of my Empire State friends followed this particularly American sport. Yet I remembered that it had been referenced in one of Reed’s forgotten songs:
CONEY ISLAND BABY
“You know, man, when I was a young man in high school
You believe in or not, that I wanted to play football for the coach
All those older guys,
they said he was mean and cruel
But you know, I wanted to play football, for the coach
They said I was too little, too lightweight to play line-back
So I say I’m playing right-end
Wanted to play football for the coach
Cause, you know some day, man
You gotta stand up straight
Unless you’re gonna fall
Then you’re gonna die
And the straightest dude I ever knew
Was standing right for me, all the time
So I had to play football for the coach
And I wanted to play football for the coach
When you’re all alone and lonely
in your midnight hour
And you find that your soul,
it has been up for sale
And you getting to think about,
all the things you done
And you getting to hate
just about everything
But remember the princess who lived on the hill
Who loved you even though she knew you was wrong
And right now she just might come shining through
and the glory of love, glory of love
Glory of love, just might come through.”
The line that always resonated so powerfully was “who loved you even though she knew you was wrong.” That bit of prose hit hard. The sort of self-analysis one would expect from a tired, veteran poet and performer, not someone arguably still in their prime.
It made me think of my own life.
Loved, yes, but wrong.
Reed was our teacher. An expert in being on the fringe. Literally defining its existence. Hunter S. Thompson once observed that only those who have gone over the ‘edge’ really know where it is located. But this New York poet did not tumble into oblivion. His endurance was compelling.
And it invited us to lift our voices in song, to join the chorus.
He made us feel worthy, each and every one.
Even a guy in Geauga County, USA.
Leave a Reply
You must be logged in to post a comment.