The passing of Lou Reed is a very sad loss for the music world and for me personally. I have no personal connection to Lou Reed beyond his music and for the last twelve years of my life I have been obsessed with it. When people talk about true originals in the art world Lou Reed is one of the first people I think of. His level of artistry was unmatched and throughout his career he did things his way and never compromised his vision for anyone. That was the reward of being a fan of his music and his art because it never stayed the same and regardless of resonance it was always different and of the cutting edge variety.
I was first introduced to Lou Reed by my good friend Brett Wyatt when he gave me a copy of a best of back in 2001. I was 17 going on 18 and looking for all kinds of new musical extremes beyond the heavy metal and alternative nation sounds I’d indulged in since the age of 11. The first song that really hit me was “Satellite of Love” and to this day it remains to be one of his greatest songs ever.
It wasn’t until 2004 that I become ultimately obsessed with Lou Reed and his original creative vehicle The Velvet Underground. At this point in my life I was listening to a lot of Sonic Youth and using their influence to discover all kinds of other radical rock n roll sounds. Through my initial understanding of Lou Reed through that best of and my new found love of Sonic Youth I went out and purchased every single The Velvet Underground album.
The music contained on “The Velvet Underground & Nico,” “White Light / White Heat, ”The Velvet Underground” and “Loaded” is truly original and stands as some of the most influential rock n roll ever created. To my ears the way I think of music history, at least in the rock n roll and pop worlds, is that you had eleven big pioneers and they were The Beatles, Pink Floyd, David Bowie, Neil Young, Ornette Coleman, Led Zeppelin, Jimi Hendrix, Patti Smith, The Stooges, Black Sabbath and The Velvet Underground. Each of these bands offered a pioneering spirit that helped shape certain dynamics of the rock n roll language.
The Velvet Underground was the ultimate mix of art and punk rock. If there was no The Velvet Underground there would be no Sonic Youth and countless other sophisticated guitar rock bands and I’m convinced that the true success of The Velvet Underground’s music is the way it opened up the universe for other musicians to be brave and in turn inspire the entire punk rock movement to erupt ten years later. Their influence doesn’t’ just stop there, the music they made allowed some of the more established artists of the time, mainly David Bowie, to re-think how they made music and I’m convinced that a lot of what Bowie went on to do in this era is a direct result of their influence. He almost became their spokesmen at a time when everyone hated them.
This is a point that needs to be understood when it comes to The Velvet Underground, everyone hated them, wrote them off and totally misunderstood them. Hindsight and the benefit of time has allowed for generations of music fans to remedy that initial dislike and I don’t think any modern young human has the capacity to understand just how hated they were by all corners of the music and art making world. This is what made them so special to me when I discovered their music back in 2004, the fact that the music itself was so damaged yet so beautiful. It had the capacity to be some of the harshest noise but also some of the sweetest pop music ever. Each album has a charm and emotional quality and like The Beatles discography it is a perfect movement of music that has implanted itself in so many different artists and the way they construct music.
I was particularly attracted to Lou Reed’s voice, words and the way he wrote songs. Being a rather unskilled guitar player and singer myself at that point in my life (still am) I took a great deal of influence from the way Lou constructed his music, especially in The Velvet Underground. It taught me to favour simplicity and emotion and art over flashy wankerisms. The whole point of musical communication, as I understood it from hours of listening to Lou Reed, was to make it unique to your own emotional intelligence and to do your own thing, reflect your own soul through your songs. So many people tried to imitate – especially in the last decade – what Lou and the rest of The Velvet Underground established. This always confused me because the main message I took from being a fan of Lou Reed is to do your own thing and to never compromise your art. That ethos I have carried with me ever since I fell deeply in love with The Velvet Underground back in 2004 and I hope that the work I do with Galapogos at least reflects that. I know a lot of who Galapogos is and how we conduct ourselves is in debt to the spirit of what an artist like Lou Reed strived for, total creative freedom and the pursuit of art over commerce.
I’d like to at this point share some words that fellow heavy and weird writer Clint Morrow wrote about Lou Reed:
“Lou Reed, both as a solo artist – a true artist – and with the Velvet Underground, showed me that music was not just a simple melody, verse-chorus-verse song structure, and one-dimensional lyrics. That wasn’t my first impression though. The first time I heard The Velvet Underground as a teenager I didn’t get it. I thought they were garbage. I thought it was poorly played, poorly constructed, and most of all the guy couldn’t sing to save himself. It was a best-of of some description. I forced myself to keep listening because everyone who was anyone said they were supposed to be amazing. I was halfway through the record before it clicked. This song changed my life and the way I listened to music from then on. Thank you, Lou.
There are a lot of songs that I could favour in this situation but my favourite Lou Reed related song will always be “Pale Blue Eyes” from 1969’s self-titled album “The Velvet Underground” – it is the greatest love song ever written and a perfect representation of why Lou Reed was such a great artist:
I could go on to write a million different things to describe why Lou Reed is such an important artist. I think his final public memory for people will always be his collaboration with Metallica which was called “LULU” and despite what other people say I stand by it as being an incredible piece of work and in the true spirit of what made Lou Reed so great. The beauty of “LULU” is how terrible and beautiful it can be. It is a damaged piece of work that was covered in all kinds of risks for each artist. It was hated, misunderstood and written off. People preferred to ignore it as opposed to embrace it and understand what was trying to be communicated and why Lou Reed chose Metallica to help communicate it. Like he did decades before, Lou Reed pissed off and confused a lot of people who like their musical experience to be a safe one, it challenged people and that reason alone illustrates an almost full circle moment for an artist who started off being misunderstood and hated. I think it was a mighty fine swansong after decades of being so forward thinking.
Thank you Lou Reed for all you gave us, you changed my life and how I chose to communicate as an artist.
I’ll see you on the other side Lou somewhere down the line I’m sure or maybe sometime soon – who knows.
Dan Newton xo