maandag 28 oktober 2013
Lou Reed (1942 - 2013)
For all appearances, to me Lou Reed looked like a grumpy, self-centred, possibly quite unpleasant person. Who cares, if the music he made at times soared to great heights?
The first song of Lou Reed I consciously heard must have been 'Walk on the wild side', but I do not have a vivid remembrance of it. The song sort of was always there and certainly not the kind of song I liked at 13. The first album I consciously heard was 'Berlin'. This was an utterly and totally shocking experience, that remained with me quite vividly. I was staying with a friend for a week who had several albums of which some I truly liked. 'Berlin' wasn't one of them, it was horrible. My 14 year old ears were prepared for a lot, but this? Crying babies, destitute people, music sounding so desperate. To be honest, I still can't listen to it as a whole, really. What has changed is that I hear the quality of the album and what made it so ground breaking.
Lou Reed's route to fame started off of course as part of The Velvet Underground (& Nico), a band "nobody bought an album of, but every one who heard them play started their own band". The four albums The Velvet Underground produced all have its moments, but it is the third 'The Velvet Underground', that is of a consistent quality. Where the freaky experimentation of John Cale was set aside for the soft boy band splendour of Doug Yule. Together with 'VU', the unofficially tagged long lost fourth album, between 'The Velvet Underground' and 'Loaded', released in 1987, my two favourite VU albums, followed by the debut album with Nico. In 1970 Reed left the band and started his solo career. That is 43 years to 5. This makes it incomprehensible that in all publications I read so far, The Velvet Underground is mentioned foremost. It is the reputation the band gained long after its demise that is responsible for that.
Lou Reed's solo career was one of great ups and tremendously deep downs. Truly fantastic albums like 'Transformer', 'Coney Island baby', 'New York' and 'Magic & loss' and live album 'Rock and roll animal' are backed by 'Street hassle', 'Growing up in public', etc. It is only fitting that his career ends with a controversial album like 'Lulu', which so many people seem to truly hate. Lou Reed is controversy, from the very beginning of his career right up to the very end. Someone who does not get that, misses a lot of his artistic personage.
I got to see him play live twice. The first time solo in 1984 as final act of the Torhout/Werchter festival, in Werchter. Fernando Saunders had a lot of trouble with his bass amp, which did nothing for the atmosphere of a non-caring crowd. People left to go home after a long day, resulting in a totally uninspiring show. The second time was with The Velvet Underground in a half-filled Ahoy. So much for the much praised, legendary band, that was unable to draw more than half of the Arena. But we in Europe got to see the band play and I would not have wanted to miss that for anything in the world. It was a truly great concert, with a band in great form, completely living up to its reputation. Looking at the stage from fairly close by however, I could not put away the thought that Lou Reed did not like to share the spotlights with his (former) bandmates. They were treated as equals by the audience, as a band, with Moe Tucker getting the most applause after singing either 'After hours' or 'I'm sticking with you', I can't remember which one, but I did see the annoyance on the face of Lou Reed.
Since the mid-90s I basically stopped following Lou Reed. The albums just weren't interesting
Not necessarily loud though. Anyone who has heard songs like 'Pale blue eyes', 'Jesus' or 'Candy says', knows how subtle, soft and even tender Lou Reed could write and play songs. Reed was a master of all trades on the edges of pop, rock and even jazz. He turned it into his own blend and took his music to places where only a few others dared to go. Certainly, he was assisted by John Cale, Andy Warhol, David Bowie and later side kicks, perhaps, but it was usually his songs and lyrics. The influence from 50s rock and roll and pop were never far away, but at the same time nobody sounded like Lou Reed in/and The Velvet Underground. Too avant garde for nearly all in the late 60s. Lou Reed found his place, obviously and went on to do many interesting things, searching for whatever he tried to find. Surprising, boring, baffling, enrapturing his fans along the way. In the way a truly dedicated artist should and does. Without searching nothing is found and Lou Reed found more than enough for one lifetime. For better or worse, he did find.
The last time I went out the door for Lou Reed was to watch the movie 'Berlin' a few years back. An integral show of the album filmed in New York City. It had me sitting at the edge of my seat from beginning to end. Superbly played and sung. A great show. A monument for a great musician. The way I prefer to remember Lou Reed.