- It’s hard waking up to the news that your hero has died. Lou Reed had done it before—just listen to his and John Cale’s album for Andy Warhol, Songs for Drella, or his 1989 album, New York, and you’ll hear it in his voice. What struck me the most was that the man who sung ‘Halloween Parade’, one of those rare, enveloping pieces of music that draws you right in to the singer’s world, had died only days before halloween.
Like most young people, I was introduced to his songs by the Adventureland soundtrack, put together by Yo La Tengo. The scene where Jessie Eisenberg and Kirsten Steward are driving to ‘Pale Blue Eyes’ immortalised The Velvet Underground to a whole new generation. From there I went to ‘Sunday Morning’, and from there, to ‘Heroin’.
'Heroin' is still unlike any other piece of music recorded. Jonathan Richman has described the first time he heard 'Heroin': “These people would understand me,” he remembered thinking. “I was hypnotised. It was the begging.” Cale's droning viola sounded like someone was opening a door very slowly, and that was exactly how I felt; it was a rush, and it was a positive escape that I needed at the time.
The next time I was touched by Lou Reed’s music he was singing about heroines rather than heroin. The trilogy of albums Reed released in the early 80s, The Blue Mask, Legendary Hearts, and New Sensations, were different to any that he’d made before. Sure, it was Transformer that had me insisting to my friends that this was the best art-pop album ever, the production work from Mick Ronson and Bowie remains inimitable, and the ‘do, do-do’s are still one of my favourite moments in musical history; but it was 1984’s New Sensations that changed my life in a tangible way.
'New Sensations', off New Sensations, changed the way I lived my life. To hear a rockstar sing lines like, “I want to eradicate my negative views,” and, “I don’t want to give it up, I want to stay married,” was shocking. Reed was in his 40s, married, and happy. It made no sense. But the more I listened to it, the more it started to. Steadily, things inside me began to unwind. I found more albums, like Richman’s I, Jonathan album, and his whole discography, that were focused on positivity and change. It sounds cliché now, but I grew my hair long just because I could. I was enjoying being alive and experiencing things for the first time.
It’s strange how attitudes towards music change when an artist dies. I’ve always loved a few tracks off Reed’s less popular albums (Mistrial, Street Hassle), but it’s been truly surprising to see more love paid towards Metal Machine Music than I previously knew existed. I’ve even caught myself wanting to listen to Lulu. It was Reed’s singular vision across albums like these—his belief in himself—that I owe more to in my life than from any other musician. The only words I can send to Reed are his own, from ‘Halloween Parade’: this celebration somehow gets me down, especially when I see you’re not around.
[tribute also published at The Dwarf]