When Lou Reed died a week ago on Sunday, I thought I might write a blog entry to explain his importance to me as an artist. However, when it came down to it I couldn’t quite get to grips with it. In the meantime of course, there were many people having no problems tapping into their own eloquence and saying much of what I wanted to say, only better than I ever could. Check out Neil Gaiman’s Guardian article here, for instance, or this beautiful piece from Patti Smith for The New Yorker. Of course, the Daily Mail got its poison pen out for the occasion and there was a weasly little article in The New Statesman seemingly from someone who’d either been personally offended by the famously curmudgeonly Mr. Reed or, I’m guessing perhaps worse in their eyes, hadn’t. You’ll notice I’m not linking to those.
During this period of procrastination, I started a drawing, completed earlier tonight, where I tried to represent a “simultaneously old and young” image of Lou Reed with a quote from one of my favourite songs of his, and spent time preparing for the first gig under the “Craig Hughes Two” monicker with Ally Tennick. A very last minute decision for the gig was to include an unrehearsed cover of Hangin’ ‘Round, another of my favourite of the man’s songs. Ally and I, along with our Dog Moon Howl bandmate Bryan Campbell, had played that song over twenty years ago as one of the few covers in our then band Smotherparty’s set. We used to wrong-foot the moshingly-inclined members of our audience by playing the intro to then-current chart hit Enter Sandman for a bit and then, just as the verse was about to kick in and the moshers prepared to … well, mosh, I suppose … we’d drop into the loose 12-bar shuffle of Hangin’ ‘Round. Made us laugh, anyway. Still, the juxtaposition of Metallica and Lou Reed – who’d have thought – we were the first to put that out into the ether and, barely two decades later, Lou and Metallica released Lulu. You’re welcome.
Anyway, Hangin’ ‘Round went very well at the Craig Hughes Two gig, which was itself a good ‘un. There’s video of the whole show and I’d like to put that track on YouTube, but there may be issues with synch rights which I’ll have to weigh up.
So, finally, to that troublesome blog entry: briefly, I loved Lou Reed’s music. I thought too that he, as a public figure, was cool. I liked that he didn’t suffer fools at all, let alone gladly, and that he appeared to have a massive ego (though I suspect that much of that was piss-taking on his part). A few years ago I found out we shared an interest in martial arts, which endeared him to me all the more.
I first encountered his music via Transformer after a record shop recommendation when I was thirteen or fourteen. I’ve noticed in a lot of the recent writings on the man a tendency to gloss over Transformer, which is really kinda bollocks as it is one of the Great Albums and alongside Berlin and New York (plus of course his work with The Velvet Underground) it defines his oeuvre. It is witty, it rocks, and its most famous tracks Walk On The Wild Side and Perfect Day are possessed of a kind of fragile beauty I had never encountered before and rarely have since. Oh and Goodnight Ladies, coming on like the great lost finale from Cabaret? Just perfect.
I came to The Velvet Underground later, when I was about sixteen, and grew to love them too but it’s the best of Reed’s solo work (see also Rock’n’Roll Animal, The Blue Mask, Legendary Hearts, Magic and Loss, Ecstasy and the A Night With Lou Reed live video, among others) that stays with me most. I loved his vocal delivery, he was one of the greatest rock lyricists and he was one of my favourite guitar players. In each of those areas of my own music he remains a towering influence.
Although I’ve had my wee tongue-in-cheek dig at Lulu, his collaboration with Metallica, in truth I think it was as fitting an end to his career as any – a gruelling listen for sure but one day I’ll learn to love it. The fact that at, what, sixty eight years old he decided to make a double concept art-metal album based on a pair of nineteenth/early twentieth century expressionist German plays with the world’s biggest metal act as essentially his backing band (kicking proceedings off in the role of the female protagonist with the line “I would cut my legs and tits off”) seems to me just about the ultimate ‘Lou Reed’ move.
Here’s to him.