Quantcast
Get breaking news alerts via email

Click here to manage your alerts
Lou Reed: Rock ‘n’ roll poet of the streets
First Published Oct 28 2013 09:03 am • Last Updated Oct 28 2013 06:46 pm

The stare from across a desk was enough for me to question whether my first and only interview with Lou Reed had been a good idea.

He’d already curtly dismissed a publicist who had dreamed for years of meeting his musical hero. Now Reed seemed to be debating whether my admitted sin — I wasn’t a native New Yorker — was worth overlooking to get some business done.

Join the Discussion
Post a Comment

Yes, Reed, who died Sunday at age 71 of liver disease related to a recent transplant, wasn’t an easy man. New York isn’t an easy town. Few artists reflected a city better than he did, and he found it an endless source of inspiration. The 2003 retrospective package we talked about claimed that status as a title: "NYC Man."

As a member of the Velvet Underground and later as a solo artist, Reed chronicled the rough side of a city at a time when it wasn’t so hidden from view. Transvestites, drug addicts and prostitutes found a place in his music. Behind a loping bass line, the cinematic lyrics of "Walk on the Wild Side" brought that world to others. For many musicians, their best-known songs aren’t necessarily representative of their work. That wasn’t the case with Reed.

Many of his most popular songs, like "Sweet Jane," ‘’Rock and Roll" and "Heroin," dated from the period of the late 1960s into the 1970s with the Velvets and soon after they broke up.

The frequently challenging subject matter didn’t lend itself to mass success and, "Walk on the Wild Side" excepted, Reed didn’t achieve it. His singing voice didn’t help, either; Reed had limited range and sang in a conversational style.

The Velvet Underground didn’t sniff the top of the charts when alive, giving rise to a famous quote from producer and Roxy Music founder Brian Eno, who suggested that every one of the few people who bought their records, himself included, later started bands.

Many paid off their debts in tribute. U2 covered Reed’s "Satellite of Love," the Cowboy Junkies did "Sweet Jane" and R.E.M. frequently performed "Pale Blue Eyes." His song "Perfect Day" had an extensive life, too.

Reed was an avant-garde artist who wore the black leather of a rocker and played a cutting guitar. Reed and his wife, performance artist Laurie Anderson, were a First Couple of an artistic scene that thrived on taking risks. Sometimes the risks didn’t work — his last big project, the 2011 collaboration with Metallica called "Lulu," was widely seen as a clamorous mess — but very few people succeed at everything.

He was dismissive in our interview when asked what he hoped people would say about his work when he was gone.


story continues below
story continues below

"I don’t give a (expletive)," he said. "Who knows or cares?

"I don’t expect anything at all from anything and I never have," he said. "I’m not trying to change anybody’s mind about anything. I’m not trying to win anybody over. I’m happy to get up in the morning. I can tie my shoelaces. I haven’t got hit by a car. I just love the music and sound and wanted to make it better, so if someone else wanted to hear it, they’d get some bang for the buck."

The people who cared about his music always knew there was a heart beating strong beneath that gruff exterior. The wild side was hard to miss, but the tenderness of a "Pale Blue Eyes" is hard to forget, the regretful young man singing that he "thought of you as everything I’ve had but couldn’t keep."

Reed’s 1989 album, "New York," was a rocking, superbly written chronicle of a city in the midst of a crack epidemic, before it was later cleaned up.

On his song, "Dirty Blvd.," Reed details a scene of hustlers and hopelessness and those hookers again, zeroing in on Pedro, who escapes into his own dreams of transcending his environment with the help of a book of magic plucked from a garbage can.

Throughout the depressing scene he paints, Reed’s voice is a monotone dripping in cynicism — until he gets to Pedro, where it lifts up a few notes, as if he can lift Pedro above the world he’s living in to a better place. It’s a moment of exquisite beauty.

Fly, fly away, Pedro.

You, too, Lou.



Copyright 2014 The Salt Lake Tribune. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Top Reader Comments Read All Comments Post a Comment
Click here to read all comments   Click here to post a comment


About Reader Comments


Reader comments on sltrib.com are the opinions of the writer, not The Salt Lake Tribune. We will delete comments containing obscenities, personal attacks and inappropriate or offensive remarks. Flagrant or repeat violators will be banned. If you see an objectionable comment, please alert us by clicking the arrow on the upper right side of the comment and selecting "Flag comment as inappropriate". If you've recently registered with Disqus or aren't seeing your comments immediately, you may need to verify your email address. To do so, visit disqus.com/account.
See more about comments here.
Staying Connected
Videos
Jobs
Contests and Promotions
  • Search Obituaries
  • Place an Obituary

  • Search Cars
  • Search Homes
  • Search Jobs
  • Search Marketplace
  • Search Legal Notices

  • Other Services
  • Advertise With Us
  • Subscribe to the Newspaper
  • Access your e-Edition
  • Frequently Asked Questions
  • Contact a newsroom staff member
  • Access the Trib Archives
  • Privacy Policy
  • Missing your paper? Need to place your paper on vacation hold? For this and any other subscription related needs, click here or call 801.204.6100.