I was fifteen and playing Transformer in the art room at
school. My friend Marc Gregory came over, with a request. His band
covered 'Perfect Day', but he'd never heard the Lou Reed original. I put
it on for him. He listened for about a minute, then he turned around,
puzzled, looking uncomfortable. "He's singing flat." "He can't be singing flat," I told him. "It's his song." Marc went off disgruntled, and I still believe I was right...
Gaiman: Good writing ought to be hard.
Reed: You have to really want it. If you don't, it's sloppy. It's actually offensive -- you'd be better off driving a truck.
He was an egomaniac and a jerk, but he was also a genius who changed the sound of everything you hear, forever, either directly, or indirectly, via those he influenced. He was effing Lou Reed, so I think he's allowed. There would be no punk without Lou. Everyone knows that. But certainly, though, the Velvet Underground had a bigger influence on my generation, via the Verve reissues (and R.E.M. covering them) in the mid-80s, than on its own. There'd be no "alternative"--in fact, most music would be very different without his pioneering of noise. There'd be no Sonic Youth, just as one example of hundreds.
But Lou's palette was one of the widest of any songwriter, far wider than Dylan--who, I'd say, in the end, Lou was more important than, or the Beatles. He could just as easily write a soft, pretty song that would grab your emotions and wring them till there were tears. Lou Reed was, even more than that, one of the greatest poets, and definitely New York's greatest poet, of the latter 20th century. His ability to tear your heart right out with the pictures he made in words is not spoken of often enough. Possibly, that's why cartoonists like him so much. A Lou-sized hole in music is a rather big thing. Lou, as you know, did a version of LULU too that came out midway in my work on my own. Here's a live performance I posted a while back; it was better than it's reputed to be. And here is the album that changed my life: WHITE LIGHT/WHITE HEAT. Rest in peace, Lou.
"Eternity with Beelzebub, and all his hellish instruments of death, will be a picnic compared to five minutes with me and this pencil." - E. Blackadder, 1791 Questionable
words & pictures from John Linton Roberson SUPPORT US AT PATREON!