Henry Rollins: What Lou Reed Meant to Me
[Look for your weekly fix from the one and only Henry Rollins right here on West Coast Sound every Thursday, and come back tomorrow for the awesomely annotated playlist for his Sunday KCRW broadcast.]
A couple of Sundays ago I woke up, turned on the computer and read that Lou Reed had passed away. Something caught in my throat. It's not lost on me that everyone dies, but some people have a kind of immortality about them and you can't imagine that they will ever be gone.
Lou Reed's music has been in the lives of millions of people all over the world for decades. He had a truly universal presence and was respected by musicians across all genres.
When someone like Lou Reed goes, it really is bigger than the end of a life. It is in a way selfish, but the passing of Lou Reed put many in a deeply introspective and self-referential state.
There is a closeness that we can establish with music, one so intimate we believe we actually had something to do with its creation. It becomes so much a part of us that we wonder when our publishing checks will be coming in. This is one of the many gifts of great music. It immediately becomes yours and part of your identity. Have you ever walked into a place, heard a song you knew and felt as if you were being represented? Your body posture changes and your self-confidence spikes, because that is your song.
Lou Reed wrote quite a few songs that are now mine. I will be playing them until it's over. Lou Reed is gone, but he left his songs with us and they are as we first heard them -- ours.
As a teen, I heard the second Velvet Underground album, White Light/White Heat, and it was too much for my limited scope of appreciation. It was intense, but I didn't get it. About a year later, all that would change.
I heard the first VU album and it was as if it had always been in my mind, waiting to be played. The occasional vocal on the album by Nico mesmerized me. I wanted to crawl through the speakers and find her.
The more I learned about this alien, often coldly turbulent group and its relationship with Andy Warhol, the more fascinated I became. I read a book by Gerard Malanga and Victor Bockris, called Up-Tight, about the band and the resulting solo work by Nico, Reed and John Cale. I wanted to hear all of it.
Byron Coley, the great musicologist, found used copies of these records and, perhaps in an effort to get me to stop asking him so many questions, gave them to me.
The Velvet Underground records are great, but many of the solo efforts are incredibly strong. Cale's Paris 1919, Honi Soit and Helen of Troy albums are excellent. Nico's The End, The Marble Index, Desert Shore, Chelsea Girls and The Drama of Exile are as well. The Lou records, those became my angry young man soundtrack.
Byron secured me a copy of Lou Reed's Street Hassle. I am quite sure that record got me through 1983. "Gimmie Some Good Times": "Oh, gimmie, gimmie, gimmie some good times / Oh, gimmie, gimmie, gimmie some pain / Don't you know that most things look ugly / To me they always look the same."
On the worst quality pair of small headphones, I played this record over and over and endured. Same with Lou's live album Take No Prisoners, where more than once he tells people in the audience basically to go fuck themselves.
He is so utterly defiant and unapologetic, it's as if he is single-handedly defending rock & roll itself. This skinny, unimposing man, wearing sunglasses, saying fuck you. That is so cool to me. He was not called the Rock & Roll Animal for nothing.
I am one of the countless people all over the world who has been irreversibly impacted by Lou Reed. His music and attitude have given me amounts of courage and companionship that I will never be able to calculate, and which I rely on now.
So, after reading this awful headline, I got myself together and went into my office to make a new playlist for my radio show that night. There was no way I couldn't dedicate the whole show to him. As I arranged the tracks, I kept saying, "I got you, Lou" to myself to stay focused.
See also: Henry Rollins' Tribute to Lou Reed
I put on "Satellite of Love" from the Transformer album and listened. The last several seconds of the song -- when Bowie comes in with that vocal, it's just one of the greatest and transcendent moments in music -- it was too much for me, and I just sat there and wept. It happened two more times as I finished the work.
A couple of hours later, I was at the station, getting the music out to the listeners. The studio phone rang with one call after another and emails from all over came in -- so many people were deeply saddened by the loss.
On the brighter side of things, Lou Reed got 71 years out of the deal, was very well aware of his place in the scheme of things and was married to one of the world's most creative, amazing and unbelievably awesome women in the world, Laurie Anderson.
When a band becomes as truly iconic as the Velvet Underground, there will often be a box set released, overburdened with mediocre material that dilutes what was fine left on its own. But the VU box sets released over the last several years are totally worthwhile and only cement the band's status. They really are that good.
How many records do you own that you have been playing for years that have not lost any speed or relevance? How many bands made music that hits you as hard as the first time you heard it? How many records do you have that you identify with so completely that they are truly a part of you? Only a few hit those marks.
For many of us, Lou Reed is on some of those records. We got this.
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