“When I die, they’ll play ‘Walk On The Wild Side’,” Lou Reed, circa 1992, when an interviewer suggested a song from his newest album, “Magic and Loss,” would be an appropriate tribute on that fateful day.
Lou Reed died earlier today.
You can read more about his influence elsewhere. This is a personal story.
Like any artist worth his or her salt, Reed’s music did not come easily to me. I knew of him as a solo artist because I would hear his songs on FM radio in New York. Pretty out there stuff. Scary, actually.
I read about him in “Creem” magazine, where they praised “Metal Machine Music,” especially side C, and followed his battles with Lester Bangs. Didn’t know what to make of what I heard, or saw. It seemed every commercial album by Reed was followed by something that appeared to be career suicide.
My kind of guy. I just didn’t know it yet.
I saw Reed numerous times over the years. The first two were at the Paradise club, during a time when he was sick of playing shows at bigger venues. These were the Arista years, and we had no idea what to expect. I didn’t know most of the songs, but I knew cool when I saw it. He was the real deal. One time, during the early show, he was having such a great time, he didn't want to leave. Reed didn’t care about the late show. He did an extra encore of “Rock and Roll” when most artists would have been gone. We exited the club elated when the next set was scheduled to begin, walking past those waiting for the man.
There were other times, like when he introduced his home video, “A Night With Lou Reed,” at Boston’s club, The Rat, with a one minute introduction, the same night John Cale was also in town playing at the Channel. I saw Reed at the Orpheum, promoting “New Sensations,” and he was also one of the highlights of the Bob Dylan 30th anniversary celebrations concert. The last time I saw Reed was probably in 2000 at Harborlights.
In the old days, it was difficult to find Velvet Underground records. Most were out of print, and you’d have to pay extra for the imports. After I saw Rachel Sweet on her first solo tour in the late 1970s, I told someone I thought it was odd for her to sing that song about “autographs.” He replied, in horror, “Don’t you know it’s a Velvet Underground song called ‘New Age?’”
Duly embarrassed, I immediately made it my mission to buy every VU album. Even the bootlegs and fanzines. What a revelation. I was hooked. His influence was immeasurable, ranging from Jonathan Richman and Patti Smith to Vaclav Havel. Now, when I'd see R.E.M., Dream Syndicate, Echo & The Bunnymen, Greg Kihn, Pastiche, or Robyn Hitchcock do a Velvets song, I’d already know it by heart.
Lou Reed was still making his mark, in one way or another, until the day he died. I’d occasionally catch his eclectic radio show on Sirius XM. Recently, I’d heard a recording of an avant garde concert with Laurie Anderson and John Zorn, and a 1970’s glam-era concert from Wolfgang’s Vault. When I went to see the documentary “Twenty Feet From Stardom,” “Walk On The Wild Side” played over the opening credits. I recently bought the Record Store Day LP for the "Scepter Studio Sessions," even though I already had a copy.
This morning, I quickly created a setlist on my phone to enjoy in the car. For some unknown reason, it crossed my mind there were no Lou Reed or Velvet Underground songs included, so I quickly added one from “Loaded.” After hearing the news, I listened to the song four times in a row on the way home.
And it was all right.
R.I.P., Lou. Time to load up the iPhone.
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