On Lou Reed

It’s been more than twenty-four hours since we got the news that Lou Reed died and there already have been enough words written to fill a book or twelve. But let’s not let that stop us from chiming in with our own two cents.

It’s been said here and there that your musical preferences are formed between the ages of twelve and eighteen. I don’t know that it’s completely true for everyone but it was largely true for me.

My first exposure to Lou Reed came in the form of a birthday present from my brother. It was a “best of” compilation. Eventually, at a high school talent show, in a borrowed leather jacket, I would sing “Walk on the Side” with my friend in our two man band (I played harmonica). Somewhere in my old school, there may be a VHS tape of that performance. If there is a merciful God, it has been erased.

I spent much of high school listening to the Velvet Underground and nodding in agreement with my friends’ assertion that his solo material in the 80s was somehow lacking. In secret, the science fiction nerd in me really dug the Terminator-style “No Money Down” for the bit where Android Lou Reed tears his latex face off.

I’d say the high point of his solo stuff was New York. I was still in high school when it came out and, having spent all of three days in the city when I was in Grade 10 on a class trip, thought I was a worldly-wise little shit who really got what Lou was on about, man. It remains to this day one of my favourite albums.

I never wanted to meet Lou Reed. From the interviews I’ve read with the guy, he came off as highly cantankerous. They always say “don’t meet your heroes.” But then, it’s not like his persona was that of some kind of warm, jolly guy. Seriously, I don’t know what that guy was expecting.

When you grow up working class in the Maritimes, music can take you somewhere else. Lou Reed was from New York but he may as well been from the moon for all his talk of sugar plum fairies and last great American whales.

But I’ll always been grateful to a guy who showed that music could be about something you wouldn’t expect.


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