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Posts Tagged ‘Lou Reed’

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:

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I know this seems like a summer song, but like any good summer song worth its salt, it goes a little deeper and ends up being about more than just sunshine and fluffy clouds.

You may be getting the idea that I’m a huge Sinatra fan. I’m not. I’m pretty ignorant of a lot of his work and of the bands and musicians that backed him. I don’t like a lot of what he did. I do like that he’s called The Chairman of the Board and let’s face it, he has lasting popularity because he had charisma up the wazoo, could really turn a phrase, and was one of the greatest singers of our time (not that we ever have to chose in these contrived “greatest” contests).

With the coming of the autumn equinox, this is perhaps a better song for the week.

You know I’m not for sappy without substance, so I love Ella Fitzgerald doing it, don’t much care for Sinatra, like Sara Vaughan (dozens more people sang it). And Lotte Lenya? She’s in her own category and in my sacrilege opinion, easy to make fun of because of that accent, just like we used to make fun of my mom because she couldn’t say “pants”–it came out sounding more like pents. Any female German torch singer cannot escape a comparison to Lily von Shtupp either. But don’t feel too bad for making fun of Germans. Trust me, we’re allowed to give them their comeuppance for decades to come.

I really love Lou Reed doing this (from the 1990s album Lost in the Stars whose greatest track is probably Tom Waits’ version of “What Keeps Mankind Alive?”).

I apologize to any of the purists among you, but as Hubby just said to me, “Weill was a communist and a Marxist, do you think he stuck to tradition?” I won’t speculate on what artists do and don’t do in reality even if they espouse certain ideas. Not to mention that once you align yourself to any one cause or affiliation, you are rather stuck, ja?

You can see from the lyrics that the song is actually pretty dark. Reed deletes some of the most beautiful lines, adds his own and turns it joyous and poppy.

September Song

lyrics, Maxwell Anderson; music, Kurt Weill

When I was a young man courting the girls
I played me a waiting game
If a maid refused me with tossing curls
I’d let the old Earth make a couple of whirls
While I plied her with tears in lieu of pearls
And as time came around she came my way
As time came around, she came

When you meet with the young girls early in the Spring
You court them in song and rhyme
They answer with words and a clover ring
But if you could examine the goods they bring
They have little to offer but the songs they sing
And the plentiful waste of time of day
A plentiful waste of time

Oh, it’s a long, long while from May to December
But the days grow short when you reach September
When the autumn weather turns the leaves to flame
One hasn’t got time for the waiting game

Oh, the days dwindle down to a precious few
September, November
And these few precious days I’ll spend with you
These precious days I’ll spend with you

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