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R.I.P. Lou Reed

October 27, 2013

Well, as the news of his death is spreading like wildfire online, I find myself actually kinda stunned hearing about the passing of Lou Reed. Gee, the grandfather of the racket I spent so much time creating myself is dead and I really don’t know what to say. Along with Iggy Pop (and his team of knuckle draggers aka The Stooges), Lou and The Velvet Underground crawled out of the New York sewers during the “Summer of Love” to freak out America’s flower children with their new brand of dirty, grimy and sometimes barely-in-tune rock ‘n’ roll, that even though initially proven completely commercially unviable turned out to influence generations to come. It took a decade for Punk Rock to gel as a valid musical statement, and Lou and his band of drugged-out miscreants was half responsible for it. That’s quite a unique effort for a musician that took pride in knowing only two chords.

copyright Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

copyright Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

On the other hand Lou was apparently a notorious asshole that prided himself with being quite impossible to deal with. The legend goes that when John Holmstrom and Legs McNeil (respectively editor-in-chief and official mascot of Punk Magazine) trekked down to Bowery shithole CBGB’s to check out this new amazing band called The Ramones, they found Lou sitting among the patrons and decided to interview him as well for their first issue and get a two-fer out of the evening. Lou – who actually was an early fan of the Ramones – dragged them along for the night hurling snide remarks, sarcasm and insults their way, which was brilliantly recreated as a cartoon in the debut issue. And for those that own McNeil’s book Please Kill Me: The Uncensored Oral History of Punk knows of his “steaming” fan encounter that left said fan disillusioned and repulsed. But hey, that is rock ‘n’ roll and no one ever said you had to appreciate the man in order to appreciate his art.

As great as some of his solo work might be (like the Bowie-produced album Transformer) there were also godawful albums throughout his career like Metal Machine Music or the much-maligned Metallica collaboration Lulu, but I’m guessing that’s what truly makes a great artist. They have a tendency to either be impeccably brilliant or a goddamn train wreck – there’s no honor in middle-of-the-road-ish qualities and mediocrity’s for the birds. That said I’d still say I always was, and probably always will be, a bigger fan of The Velvet Underground than Lou’s solo career. The band was solid and had a truly unique (albeit unsettling) vision until drugs and egos started taking their toll. And I’d guess that the constraints within said group that Lou probably thought were frustrating at the time might’ve actually done him good if he’d stuck around a little longer. But that really doesn’t matter know.

Dead at 71 years, with 51 of those spent creating a racket truly his own, the guy pulled it off his way. In the process he also managed to influence some snot-nosed punks to pick up guitars and start creating their own racket. And that’s quite a feat. Rest in peace, Lou.

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