Today I was scanning FaceBook when a link to a Rolling Stone article stopped me dead in my tracks. Lou Reed was dead.
I was in shock, I wanted to be in Nashville at my favorite dive bar begging the DJ to play one more Velvet Undergound song, I wanted to be around other social outcasts who Lou Reed wrote about even though he never met them. I wanted to be somewhere that I could share my loss with others who felt it in the same way I did, but I realize there are few who do.
I grew up in the 80's, at a young age I embraced The Clash and the Sex Pistols and The Ramones, all of these bands were a lot of fun and they seemed to be saying something important even if they weren't talking to me directly. Then one day I walked into a record store and found a copy of "The Velvet Underground & Nico" on cassette, in a bargin bin. I had heard someone talk about this band before but I knew nothing of them, but hey, it was cheap and I had a few bucks on my so I bought it. When I got home I popped the cassette into my tape deck and started listening.
I thought I had wasted my money when the first song started playing. "Sunday Morning" is a sweet and touching ballad until you realize it is about coming down off of heroin. I was too naive to realize that. Next up was a song entitled "I'm Waiting for My Man" and I began to think that my purchase had not been in vain. It was raucous and repetative and obviously talking about a drug deal, this fit right in with my punk sensabilities. A couple of songs later I was introduced to the wonderful screeching sounds that a viola can make in "Venus in Furs". I was enthralled, a song about sado masochism, not something that I was into but something that was being put to music that was never supposed to even be discussed. Song after song it just kept happening, things that you couldn't talk about, Lou Reed was singing about, and not in a "Kids, don't try this at home!" kind of way. No, he was just letting you know that these things existed, that they could be terrible but that some people were strongly drawn to them, that the world was more than the sunny, suburban, landscape that surrounded me.
I don't want to overstate things, "The Velvet Undergound & Nico" did not change my life. I was very intrigued by this album, but it did not alter my way of thinking. No, "White Light/White Heat" is the album that changed my life. This album is almost not a collection of music. It grates at you with screeches and wails, it attacks your intellect with stories of drug abuse and sex and murder. It is not meant to be easy listening but I doubt any album containing a story about a lobotomy performed on a transexual is. Don't get the wrong impression, this was no heavy metal, happy go lucky, gore fest. This was art, it was art that made me realize that I might not be the only freak in the world.
Lou Reed wrote about hookers and queers and pushers and pimps and poor people just trying to survive. He wrote of loss and of love in places where only loss should exist. He wrote about things that polite people don't want to think about but that exists all around them. He never judged the characters in his songs, but he never romanticized them either, he simply made them, and to a large extent me, as human as anyone else. Lou Reed lived a life as intense as the lives he wrote about in his music, his parents tried to cure his bisexuality with electroshock therapy. He abused drugs and alcohol. He was often said to be a difficult person to be around. Lou Reed was no saint, but he was the patron poet of the people society would like to forget about and there are so many of us that he stands no chance of being forgotten.
When I read the news that Lou was gone it took me a few minutes to digest it. I was probably half an hour before I realized that, by coincidence, I was wearing the shirt I bought at the concert I saw him perform in Nashville. At that point, for some reason, the song that started running through my mind was "Sunday Morning"