As I age, the legions of celebrities who shaped the popular culture into which I was born will continue to die. Their deaths will increase in number and rapidity.
I never had the slightest idea that Lou Reed would be on this list. Yes, not even a foggy notion.
I probably came late to worship at the altar of Lou Reed and The Velvet Underground, but I don’t really remember. I don’t have any monumental story to tell you about the first time I heard the album Loaded or anything.
When I was in high school, I didn’t know about cross-dressing or what a transvestite was. Take a Walk on the Wild Side was a radio standby throughout those years, nothing radical about it.
I wasn’t raised Catholic where you dress up and attend funerals on a regular basis; in fact, I was purposely shielded from death by my parents who believed that it was appropriate to do so and it would keep me safe. I never saw a dead body until my own father died when I was 23. My first viewing of an open casket was several years later.
After John Lennon was shot (I was a mere 17), the possibility of any of the other Beatles’ dying became real. Lennon’s death was hard, but we had each other, we had the legions turning out in Central Park singing Imagine to help us through, and, like I say, I was 17, on the cusp of the wildness ahead of me and full of disdain for the adult world I was about to enter into in some small measure. I was woefully unaware of the process I now know as “aging.” Not only that, but the Beatles’ zeitgeist jumped generations and genres of music. There was so much to love about them—who even remembers that they pushed boundaries and people’s buttons? Their music’s universal appeal wiped out the shock of their long hair; the bed-in; the Jesus statement (which was willfully and ignorantly taken out-of-context anyway).
Lou Reed and the VU captured the sound that was still alive when I was a student at Kent State University in the early ’80s. Attending any art opening had the grit and recklessness the VU sang about in the ’60s. There were drugs, fags, lesbians, cross-dressers, punk bands, hair dye, glam, 1950s vintage; and we were all sexy, every last one of us; all of this before Grunge hit the scene. By the ’90s, I had gotten sober, bought a house, started to settle into my life with my man.
I remember one particular thesis show where the artist had created huge, found-metal musical instruments and everyone who went through the exhibit spent the next 3 or 4 hours demolishing the sculptures by “playing” them with the flat, rusted metal strips left around on the floor next to each one.
I went to as many art openings as I could. I went for the free booze and the food and the scent of sex, but also to be on the edge of all of those real artists. I was an English major and didn’t have the stomach for that much radicalism or creativity. What I hear when I listen to the Velvet Underground is the sound of that time.
I knew a guy, a friend of another guy, who said if you looked up the word cool in the dictionary, there would be a little picture of Lou Reed next to it. That’s how cool Lou Reed was. I always loved that.
Lou Reed, your death belongs to my generation, too. Thanks for the trippy guitar, the sex and the drugs and the grit, the psychedelia, the poetry, your rich and soulful voice.
You were a light in the darkness because you didn’t deny the darkness and from that place you were one of its true voices.
Now if I could pick my favorite song, I’d post it for you right here. I’m dancing and singing along and you should be, too.
Beautiful, just beautiful: