Lou Reed is dead. Just let that sink in.
I’m not going to claim to be the biggest Lou Reed fan in the world. I don’t know as much about him as I’d like to. I have the first Velvet Underground & Nico album. I love everything I ever heard him perform, but for some reason I never bought more than that one VU album.
That said, I felt a deep sense of loss when I heard that Lou passed away. He was always one of those cool motherfuckers who represented a specific time and place, a certain attitude, a way of living. He was a genuine rock and roll badass. His lyrics were devastatingly honest, and his voice was pure imperfection. I remember watching some awards show many years ago, and when Lou started to sing it sounded like everyone was booing. I quickly realized that the audience was passionately chanting his name. He was a powerful performer.
Brian Eno once said that “only 5,000 people ever bought a Velvet Underground album, but every single one of them started a band.” That first album didn’t seem to make much of a splash when it was released, but it has become one of the most influential recordings of all time. Listening to it today I am impressed by the risks they took in creating such a collection of diverse and direct songs. There are a few that sound like Bob Dylan, there’s some psychedelic shit, there’s “Heroin,” there’s Nico’s haunting and beautiful voice. No wonder people didn’t know what to make of it in 1967!
I first heard “Heroin” in the 1991 film The Doors. I immediately became obsessed with it, and it was one of the songs I played repeatedly from the soundtrack. I already had all the Doors’ records so I knew those intimately. It was pretty cool to me that this song was so bold yet languid and non-judgmental, just a junkie’s perspective on his junk.
Everyone knows “Sweet Jane” and “Walk on the Wild Side.” Those are truly perfect songs, especially “Walk on the Wild Side,” which is one of my favorite songs of all time.
There’s another exceptionally brilliant song, one that I could listen to multiple times a day, and it fits into my Rock and Roll Songs About Rock and Roll category. “Rock ‘n’ Roll” explains exactly why we love the music.
Jenny said when she was just five years old
There was nothing happenin’ at all
Every time she puts on a radio
There was nothin’ goin’ down at all
Not at all
Then one fine mornin’ she puts on a New York station
She couldn’t believe what she heard at all
She started shakin’ to that fine, fine music
You know her life was saved by rock and roll
That’s all we need to know. Lou was a complex man, but he had a rock and roll heart until the end. The world is a more interesting place because of him. Rock and roll saved a lot of us. And it gave us Lou Reed.
Starting right now you should join me in listening to as much Lou Reed as possible. It will be good for your ears and your soul. Rock and roll always is.