The Inevitable Lou Reed Post


Lou Reed died yesterday, October 27, at the age of seventy-one.

Everyone knows all the “legends of Lou”: the visionary musician who formed The Velvet Underground and changed the face of rock music (Brian Eno famously said: “… the first Velvet Underground record sold 30,000 copies in the first five years … I think everyone who bought one of those 30,000 copies started a band!”); the notoriously “difficult” interviewee; the one-time self-confessed junkie; the prophet and seer of New York City.  All of these will be covered by many articles in the coming days.

But the most important thing about Lou Reed was the work. And, more specifically, the lyrics. What lyrics! When he inducted Leonard Cohen into The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Reed introduced him by reading excerpts from Cohen’s lyrics. After reading one verse, Reed threw his arms in the air and said, “He could have stopped there!” I feel that way about many of Lou’s lyrics. In my opinion (and there will be many who will argue with me) two of Lou’s best albums are New York and Songs for Drella.

New York is a caustic, searing – oftentimes witty – indictment of the city that Reed spent much of his life writing about.

“There’s blacks with knives and whites with guns
Fighting in Howard Beach
There’s no such thing as human rights
When you walk the New York streets
A cop was shot in the head by a 10 year old kid
Named Buddah in Central Park last week
The fathers and daughters are lined up by the coffins
By the Statue of Bigotry…”
“Hold On”

“They say things are done for the majority
Don’t believe half of what you see, and none of what you hear
It’s a lot like what my painter friend Donald said to me
“Stick a fork in their ass and turn them over, they’re done”
“The Last Great American Whale”

“Give me your hungry, your tired your poor I’ll piss on ’em
That’s what the Statue of Bigotry says
Your poor huddled masses, let’s club ’em to death
And get it over with and just dump ’em on the boulevard…”
“Dirty Blvd”

“You can’t depend on any churches
Unless there’s a real estate you want to buy…”
“Busload of Faith”

Songs for Drella (an album he made with John Cale) is a much more sombre, reflective and – at times – heartbreaking meditation on Reed and Cale’s former mentor Andy Warhol.

“Andy it’s me, haven’t seen you in a while
I wished I talked to you more when you were alive
I thought you were self-assured when you acted shy
Hello it’s me…”

“When Billy Name was sick and locked up in his room
You asked me for some speed, I thought it was for you
I’m sorry that I doubted your good heart
Things always seem to end before they start…”
“Hello, it’s me”

“He’d get to the factory early
If you’d ask him he’d tell you straight out
It’s just work, the most important thing is work
No matter what I did it never seemed enough
He said I was lazy, I said I was young
He said, ‘How many songs did you write?’
I’d written zero, I’d lied and said, ‘Ten.’
‘You won’t be young forever
You should have written fifteen.’

I could, of course, quote him all day, from “Heroin” or “Coney Island Baby” or Berlin”, or any one of his twenty-two albums. (Albums that he believed – if listened to chronologically – made up his “Great American Novel”. I love that idea.)

One of the lyrics that Lou read at Leonard Cohen’s induction was a verse from “Tower of Song” and it seems apt to finish this post with it:

“I bid you farewell, I don’t know when I’ll be back
They’re moving us tomorrow to that tower down the track
But you’ll be hearing from me, baby, long after I’m gone
I’ll be speaking to you sweetly from a window in the Tower of Song”

Goodnight Lou.


3 thoughts on “The Inevitable Lou Reed Post

  1. Great comments by way of a tribute. I always thought he epitomised the arrogance of the every day New Yorker as we perceive them, yet he managed to suppress it sufficiently to denounce the society that was undermining his world. A great man. And he put it to music!

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