Lewis Allan “Lou” Reed
March 2nd 1942-October 27th 2013
“Sunday morning, praise the dawning;
It’s just a restless feeling by my side.
Early dawning, sunday morning;
It’s just the wasted years so close behind
Watch out, the world’s behind you.
There’s always someone around you who will call.
It’s nothing at all. ”
This is not my introduction to my short say on Lou Reed, best known as a founding member of The Velvet Underground and for his solo work. These words come from Lou Reed himself of whom, in a beautifully ironic way, passed away on this very “Sunday Morning” on October 27th, 2013. Sunday Morning was a pretty song that opened their masterful album The Velvet Underground and Nico, and it invited listeners into the album with the Andy Warhol banana slapped on the front cover. Suddenly, the album would take twists and turns into the world of hardcore drugs, sadomasochism, transvestites, self deterioration, and even death. The album went from a cute melody to screeching violins, pummeling and nauseatingly repetitive drums, guitars that carried out the same pattern for eternity, and lyrics that shocked the world from the voice of a stone faced hero (Reed himself). It is this nurturing into the world of the ugly that Lou Reed tricked us listeners into, it is this world of cacophony that Lou Reed helped to make beautiful, and it is this world of unusualness that Lou Reed guided us through and made us realize it is actually a world we would love to revisit.
The Velvet Underground helped create so many forms of modern music today that it is impossible to underestimate the impact that Reed made on the music world. A quote said by groundbreaking producer Brian Eno was that, while their debut album sold only a few thousand copies, “everyone who bought one formed a band”. Some of the many genres influenced by this band are rock, punk, metal, ambient, post-punk, gothic rock, and more. Lyrically, The Velvet Underground were one of the first bands, if not the first, to bring taboo and hard hitting subject matter into their lyrics for mainstream audiences to hear, which influences, well, pretty much every genre. If The Velvet Underground broke ground anywhere, it was by opening up the box of music, breaking it, and creating a whole new structure with the shattered pieces.
Lou Reed’s solo work was also note worthy, with acclaimed albums like Transformer and Berlin, which furthermore brought the world into his personal space. Sure, not all of his experiments worked. Metal Machine Music and, in recent years, Lulu (with Metallica) may have received a largely negative reception, and Reed himself even expressed surprise that the former album didn’t end his career. That’s because someone who has sprinted so far ahead into the future can afford to take a step or two back to see if the world is catching up to him yet. With so many albums and experiments working brilliantly, Lou Reed was an enigma with so much complexity. He would always try something new, and even when he failed, he kept trying anyways. He never once let his mind take a break. He never once played it safe.
While I am on the topic of determination, Lou Reed had a liver transplant earlier this year in April. He claimed that the operation was a success, and that he was better than ever. Today’s death was a shock for many, not just because we lost a contemporary music great, but because we did not see it coming. According to his physician, Charles Miller, Lou Reed was actually suffering and continuously battling until his final hour, where he reportedly practiced Tai Chi to try and defeat this sickness. He fought his sickness just like he fought the boundaries and confinements of music: Through personal reflection and perseverance.
Lou Reed’s music, with its feedback and gain, shall ring through all music and all of us forever. There will never be a moment like the very start of Sunday Morning ever again. There will never be a song to start millions of minds going like Sister Ray again. There will never be a song like Take a Walk on the Wild Side again, where a song can embody both discomfort and the cherishing of life at the very same time. Instead, Lou Reed has created the concept of the Perfect Day, where every day, no matter how good or bad, is perfect, because in the end we made it. After today, I’ve come to realize that it isn’t about making it alive. It’s about making it as people, as companions, as minds, as spirits, and finally, in Reed’s case, as legacies.
“Oh it’s such a perfect day;
I’m glad I spent it with you.
Oh such a perfect day.
You just keep me hanging on.
You just keep me hanging on.”