“It always bothers me to see people writing ‘RIP’ when a person dies. It just feels so insincere and like a cop-out. To me, ‘RIP’ is the microwave dinner of posthumous honours”
-Lou Reed (1942-2013)
The rock legend was born in New York on March 2, 1942, as a child of an accountant and a former beauty queen. His parents sent the rebel teenager – living under the spell of rock and roll – at the age of 17 to shock therapy to heal him from his mood swings and deviances (as bisexuality), but the treatment was unsuccessful.
At the University he studied philosophy and literature, he also had an independent radio show – but this did not enjoy a particular success, because his favorites were far from the public taste. He founded his first band at the university, he occupied himself with creative writing, he published short stories.
At the age of 22 he began to open his wings as a songwriter at Pickwick Records record company – he met the Welsh John Cale in this period, who studied music in New York and played music with the avant-garde composer La Monte Young. Guitarist Sterling Morrison and drummer Maureen Tucker – who then lived together in the Lower East Side – joined the two musicians to found The Velvet Underground.
As the band was finally formed, they caught the attention of a pop-art artist, an unofficial ruler of the New York underground, Andy Warhol, who has incorporated the four into his show called “Exploding Plastic Inevitable”, and later -although Reed was not enthusiastic about the idea- he succeeded to take in the German model-singer Nico.
The band’s first album, The Velvet Underground & Nico appeared in March 1967 and although it did not have a commercial success, it is considered to be one of the most influential albums in Pop music. Without it the history of rock and roll would look different.
The formation of Velvet Underground was created with the collaboration of the “Pope of Pop Art” in 1966, who organized their first appearance on the conference of the most prestigious US psychiatrists, and he designed the famous cover of their first album with the banana in 1967.
On this album, the German model-actress Nico was singing, the lyrics written by Reed openly discussed topics of rock and roll lifestyle and sexuality, drug culture, and the shadowy side of life (these were taboos in that time). The professional and personal disputes quickly blasted the band, Cale left the band first, then Reed in 1970.
The Velvet Underground’s brief history was a commercial failure, but it’s impact is comparable to that of The Beatles in the sixties: Reed’s and Cale’s compositions on alcohol, drug and death with their dark, frightening sounds and their performances strongly influenced the 1970’s and 80’s punk, new wave and europop trends.
The versatile Lou Reed is not only a rock musician, but also one of the revolutionaries of American poetry, his writings are taught at universities.He also appeared in several movies, his photo albums were published. His widow, Laurie Anderson is a recognized American musician, multimedia and performance artist.
Let’s see the top six songs of the prince of darkness:
6. Kill Your Sons
“All your two-bit psychiatrists
are giving you electroshock
They said, they’d let you live at home with mom and dad
instead of mental hospitals
But every time you tried to read a book
you couldn’t get to page 17
‘Cause you forgot where you were
so you couldn’t even read.”
As a teenager, Lou Reed was sent to a mental hospital for psychiatric care when he was caught engaging in homosexual activity. While there, he received electroconvulsive therapy – shock treatment. The treatments left Reed feeling like a “vegetable,” and he said that it caused him to lose his memory and his ability to concentrate enough to read: hence the lyrics,”But every time you tried to read a book you couldn’t get to page 17, because you forgot where you were so you couldn’t even read.”
take me upon your wings
and gently roll the clouds away
I’m sorry, so sorry
I have no incantations
only words to help sweep me away”
Magician is the only song on “Magic and Loss” from the point of view of one of the dying (as opposed to the grieving Reed). With the guitars and bass playing gently behind him, the dying person asks, “I want some magic to sweep me away… Release me from the body/From this bulk that moves beside me… I want some magic to keep me alive/I want a miracle; I don’t want to die”. It would be easy to imagine a different singer doing “Magician” in a Brazilian style, or as a Jaques Brel-style chanson.
4. Disco mystic
“Disco, disco mystic
Disco, disco mystic
Disco, disco mystic”
The lyrics of this song may seem to be a little simple, but the cool, funky beats in the background compensate us. Disco mystic appeared on “The Bells” album in 1979, which found Reed moving away from the boho decadence of most of his 1970s work toward a more compassionate perspective on his characters.
3. Trouble with the classicists
“The trouble with a classicist he looks at a tree
That’s all he sees, he paints a tree
The trouble with a classicist he looks at the sky
He doesn’t ask why, he just paints a sky.”
This song is an art historical reflection about classicists, impressionists and surrealists. He is satisfied with none of them, since according to him, all three have “troubles”: classicists are too obvious, they just paint what they see, without asking questions. While impressionists are too impersonal and characterless, their personality just fade away.
And surrealists are just surrealists. In fact, Lou prefers the unskilled suburban graffiti youngsters. He sees something in them, something raw, clean and unspoiled. They are untouched from the influences of different-isms, they are similar to the innocent art of the prehistoric cave painters, who stayed in touch with nature and the instinctive realms of the soul.
“Andy said a lot of things, I stored them all away in my head
Sometimes when I can’t decide what I should do
I think what would andy have said
He’d probably say you think too much
That’s ’cause there’s work that you don’t want to do
It’s work, the most important thing is work
Work, the most important thing is work”
Work is really a lesson of minimalism. Is overthinking actually a form of sabotage, a self-defense reaction of our unconscious lazy selves? Certainly, from a practical point of view. But where do you draw the line between useful and useless thoughts? Or must we develop a capability to recognize the moments when we overstrain the chord, and say STOP!
We should not take an example of Sisyphus. In Greek mythology Sisyphus was the king of Ephyra (now known as Corinth). He was punished for his self-aggrandizing craftiness and deceitfulness by being forced to roll an immense boulder up a hill, only to watch it roll back down, repeating this action for eternity.
Or should we just call Captain Metaphysics to cut across the Gordian knot when thoughts are too much?
1. Walk On The Wild Side
Reed quitted the Velvet Underground in August 1970 (which was left by his creative partner, John Cale with a promise of eternal wrath). He worked for a while at his father’s accounting agency in the position of a typist, but one year later he signed a contract with the RCA record label. His first, untitled album did not particularly stir up waves – unlike the second Lou Reed album, “Transformer” (which, not coincidentally, many believe is the first solo album of Lou Reed).
The album full with memorable songs was published in December, 1972 was produced by David Bowie – who was just spinning in his Ziggy Stardust period – and his guitarist Mick Ronson; it is not a coincidence that the album -which bears the marks of glam-rock– was such a great success in the UK and Europe. The disc and the total Lou Reed’s oeuvre. Probably the most important song of the disc and the whole Lou Reed oeuvre is Walk On The Wild Side, which depicts the underground world of New York half in a poetic manner.
According to his widow Lou Reed left the world of the living in his home, while he was staring at the trees and practicing exercises of the healing Chinese martial art, Tai Chi exercises on a Sunday. The house is located in the elegant district of East Hampton on the Long Island peninsula. They considered this place as their spiritual home after their urban life.
He was 71 when he died from hepatitis. Laurie Anderson dropped a few words about the circumstances in an obituary published in a local newspaper called “East Hampton Star”. According to the widow, the singer -who was the master of the martial art of Chinese origin- “practiced the famous 21. exercise of tai chi in the air with his musician hands”, when he died.
The pioneer of rock was only 71 years old when he died. Rest in peace (not RIP!), Lou. Thank you for reading, our next article will be about Iggy Pop, stay with us.