Lou Reed: Born 75 Years Ago Today

Lewis Allan “Lou” Reed was born 2nd March 1942 in Brooklyn

I forgot I was meant to be writing this. And then Steve reminded me. And now I’m on a plane to LA with only 10% charge left on my phone, trying to finish this before we land and trying to work out what to say. I’m thinking I should, ideally, be on a plane to New York: Lou Reed doesn’t strike me as someone who could have come from anywhere but New York. Or—possibly—London.

The thing is, I’m not really a Lou Reed man. I could never bring myself to love him, to be a fan, to be eager about what he was going to do next, though I always thought I probably should have done. I admired him, yes, respected him, trod quietly and obediently in his presence. I stroke my beard knowingly still when someone mentions him, his influence, his genius. I’ll defend to the death his desire to piss everyone—everyone—off with Metal Machine Music. And I recognise he was one of those rare few who—if you removed them from music’s story, from our culture’s story—would make it collapse in on itself. Without Lou: no Bowie? No Iggy? No Pistols? No Roxy? No Joy Division? No Jesus and Mary Chain? No… whoever. Yep. I get it. I know all that. But I never loved him. I blame him for that. And now I’m stuck somewhere over the mid-West with that bloody doo-do-doo thing from Walk On The Wild Side going through my head and no idea what to write. And I definitely blame him for that.

There were times, I’ll be honest, when Lou Reed lit up my life. Like many of my generation, my introduction to him was through Walk On The Wild Side‘s louche, strutting, BBC-baiting, decadent, other-worldly, jokey, self-referentially holy sleaze. They often used to play it at discos, bizarrely, and that always made me happy. I remember once borrowing Transformer from a mate (who also (obviously) loved the Doobie Brothers) and really enjoying its snarky gloss and verve, its not-quite-smoothed edges, its … Bowieness. And—when I was about 18—I found myself one night in a scary, smoke-filled Hells Angels bar in Amsterdam. We were drunk. White Light, White Heat came on. I’d never heard it before. It was fantastic and transporting: absolutely raw, visceral, urgent male energy. I got the same feeling when I heard the first Clash album, an album made …. years later. The same feeling when we beat Arsenal and Chelsea in the same week. The same feeling when …

I think the reason Lou Reed would punch his way into my life and then slip out again over the thirty years or so we didn’t really know each other was because he couldn’t care less if I loved him or not, or if you did, or if bloody music journalists did, or if Warhol did, or if Cale did, or if Bowie did. Lou Reed did what he wanted to do. That’s it. He once said, apparently, that he was proud of being Jewish but that “my God is rock ‘n’ roll.” I suspect that’s not true. I’m not sure he was ever ‘rock ‘n’ roll’. He was too clever, too much of an inside/outside observer, too much of a contrary poet, too dismissive of those who influenced him and too indifferent to those he influenced. His God was Lou Reed. And, possibly, God.

I’m down to 5% charge now, so I’m going to stop soon. That night in Amsterdam, one of the Hells Angels asked us to take some ‘schtuff’ back in our suitcases with us. I was briefly tempted. But I was one step away from Lou Reed’s own one step away from people like the Angels, from the murderous harshness of the street, so I said no. He’d have had contempt for my hesitancy but I suspect he wouldn’t have done it either. And maybe that’s why I could never love him? I don’t know.

They’ve turned the lights off in here now. It’s cold. It’s quiet. I keep thinking I can hear Vicious playing quietly somewhere at the front of the plane. I’m glad Lou Reed was born on March 2nd, and, despite everything I’ve said, despite even that bloody thing he did with Metallica, I’m sad he’s not still with us. Our stories would have been sadder, thinner and so, so much less rich without him. And that’s not true of many people.

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