Remembering Lou Reed

by Ken Gibb

It has been a week or two since Lou Reed died and only now, for what it is worth, have I had the chance to set down my thoughts on his passing.

I was, like many of my generation, a great fan both of the Velvet Underground and also much of his solo work in the 1970s. This had a lot to do with David Bowie and Transformer of course but also, strangely, Bob Ezrin’s period producing Berlin and arranging him working with Hunter and Wagner from Alice Cooper’s band on the fantastic live album Rock’ n Roll Animal.

He was the writer of many rock standards, a genuine innovator as a songwriter and one possessed a rare style and musicianship; he possessed a real intelligence about so much of what he did. Often laced with pessimism and ‘difficult’ subject matter, he nonetheless produced a considerable volume of thought provoking material but also in the end some really excellent tunes.

I think I first became aware of his new music around the time of Street Hassle and thereafter dipped into the back catalogue and followed his subsequent music thereafter. I was about 8 when ‘Walk on the Wild Side’ was in the charts but it was much later that I listened to the albums of the period.

Regarding the Velvets I was always a big fan of the first and last albums and also the 3rd self-titled and rather weird collection of songs – the first after John Cale left. My favourite songs were things like Sunday Morning, I’m Beginning to See the Light, Sweet Jane and Pale Blue Eyes. Apart from The Gift and one or two other tracks, the second album never really worked for me in the same way. The Velvet Underground and Nico must be one of the greatest debut albums; just as Loaded is a classic final album, like LA Woman or The 12 Dreams of Dr Sardonicus – both of similar vintage.

I found a lot of the solo period after the 1970s frustratingly patchy with some great songs like The Day John Kennedy Died and I Love You Suzanne mixed up with a few indifferent tracks. Still he was capable of making truly great albums like New York and (with Cale) Songs for Drella.  A relative of mine truly hated Nobody Like You so much that I still find the need to have it as a ringtone for her when she calls.

Back in the early 1990s I saw him live a few times both solo and on that strange short-lived Velvets reunion in Edinburgh. I thought it was a great night myself but had the sense that they were not too happy being there.

For those people familiar with the album New York you may recall one of the catchier songs ‘Good Evening, Mr Waldheim’.  In the Autumn of 1992, as a callow and inexperienced research fellow, I found myself as a solitary social scientist at an international housing conference in Salzburg, Austria. The conference dinner involved a Mozart string quartet and meeting luminaries. And, as you might have guessed, one was none other than the then MP for Salzburg, the former head of the UN,  Kurt Waldheim. When I heard of Lou Reed’s passing, amongst other memories, I was taken back to that surreal evening.

Of course, one is very sad to hear this news but there are so many things to remember and great music to consider. I am also really glad that his old partner, John Cale, is still working and making great music in 2013.