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“And something flickered for a minute, and then it vanished and was gone”

Monday, Oct 28, 2013

* “What do you think I’d see / If I could walk away from me.”

Those lines from “Candy Says” pretty much sum up the late Lou Reed. Always struggling to get outside of himself to chronicle his own life and the rarely told stories of the untold thousands who lived existences beyond the “norm,” the losers, ne’er do wells and lowlifes who are routinely brushed aside as so much detritus.

More biting than Dylan, more painfully self-aware than Lennon, more accessible than Waits, less self-involved than HST and Bukowski. Lou Reed was one of our greatest underground American treasures.

* Consider, for a moment, his lyrics in “Heroin“…

Heroin, be the death of me
Heroin, it’s my wife and it’s my life
Because a mainer to my vein
Leads to a center in my head
And then I’m better off than dead

The song, as a whole, tells more about junky rationale than anything written.

* Or “Cremation,” written after the death of a close friend…

Will your ashes float like some foreign boat
or will they sink absorbed forever
Will the Atlantic Coast
have its final boast
Nothing else contained you ever

Morbid and touching at once.

* He was the embodiment of what the Beat poets used to only dream about - a bridge between poetry and music

“One chord is fine,” he once said, alluding to his bare-bones guitar style. “Two chords are pushing it. Three chords and you’re into jazz.”

* “New York” will forever be one of my favorite albums. It starts with the hard driving guitars of “Romeo had Juliette“…

Romeo Rodriguez squares
his shoulders and curses Jesus
runs a comb through his black pony-tail
He’s thinking of his lonely room
the sink that by his bed gives off a stink
then smells her perfume in his eyes
And her voice was like a bell

* And moves to the horrors of poverty in “Dirty Boulevard“…

And back at the Wilshire, Pedro sits there dreaming
he’s found a book on magic in a garbage can
He looks at the pictures and stares at the cracked ceiling
“At the count of 3″ he says, “I hope I can disappear”
And fly, fly away

* The climax comes with Reed’s roar at the injustices of everyday existence in the closest he ever got to a rock anthem, “Busload of Faith“…

You can’t depend on no miracle
you can’t depend on the air
You can’t depend on a wise man
you can’t find ‘em because they’re not there

You can depend on cruelty
crudity of thought and sound
You can depend on the worst always happening
You need a busload of faith to get by

The futility of life and the path to hope all rolled into one, perfectly summing up the Lou Reed canon better than anything I could ever write.

* I’ll close with this

“All through this, I’ve always thought that if you thought of all of it as a book then you have the Great American Novel, every record as a chapter,” he told Rolling Stone in 1987. “They’re all in chronological order. You take the whole thing, stack it and listen to it in order, there’s my Great American Novel.”

No question today out of respect for the departed.

- Posted by Rich Miller        

  1. - MKA1985 - Monday, Oct 28, 13 @ 1:59 pm:

    Didn’t think I’d read one of the better Lou Reed eulogies from a state government and politics blog. Nicely done, Rich.

  2. - Amalia - Monday, Oct 28, 13 @ 2:00 pm:

    this is just a huge loss for the world. I’m so deeply sad about his death. did not see Lou perform live until the early ’90s, but so glad I did. Not just a great songwriter and performer, but an essential part of the art and rock music world, an influencer, giver, a legend. condolences to his wife Laurie.

  3. - vise77 - Monday, Oct 28, 13 @ 2:04 pm:

    Lou Reed was not my favorite rocker–he didn’t hit me in the gut as much as he did for some others–but I have nothing but massive respect for what he did, how he wasn’t afraid to fail (and thrive, of course) and how much he meant to other serious rock fans. Much of the music I grew up loving would not have been possible without Reed.

  4. - walkinfool - Monday, Oct 28, 13 @ 2:08 pm:


  5. - hisgirlfriday - Monday, Oct 28, 13 @ 2:09 pm:

    My first exposure to Lou Reed was his “Perfect Day” as the soundtrack to a scene in the movie, trainspotting. I later fell in love with a lot more of his work, but for me that song was just always the epitome of what I loved about listening to him. So beautiful yet melancholy, so nostalgic but raw, so warm but discomfiting.

  6. - wordslinger - Monday, Oct 28, 13 @ 2:11 pm:

    Some people like to go out dancing
    And other people, (like us) they gotta work
    And there’s always some evil mothers
    they’ll tell you life is full of dirt.
    And the women never really faint,
    and the villans always blink their eyes.
    And the children are the only ones who blush.
    ‘Cause life is just to die.

    But, anyone who has a heart
    wouldn’t want to turn around and break it…
    and anyone who ever played the part..
    he wouldn’t want to turn around and fake it…
    Sweet Jane…

  7. - RIP Lou - Monday, Oct 28, 13 @ 2:17 pm:

    Rich, you could have used one of my favorite lines about yourself, from Sweet Jane:

    And other peoples, they have to work, just watch me now.

  8. - 47th Ward - Monday, Oct 28, 13 @ 2:33 pm:

    Jenny said, when she was just five years old
    You know there’s nothin’ happening at all
    Every time she put on the radio
    There was nothin’ goin’ down at all
    Not at all

    One fine mornin’, she puts on a New York station
    And she couldn’t believe what she heard at all
    She started dancin’ to that fine-fine-fine-fine music
    Ooohhh, her life was saved by rock ‘n’ roll
    Hey baby, rock ‘n’ roll

  9. - bored now - Monday, Oct 28, 13 @ 2:33 pm:

    i always loved the quote that if only 30,000 people bought the first velvet underground record, everyone of them started a band. music did have huge significance in this period of our history, and many of the songwriters were the real storytellers and poets of the age. lou reed was both, and d**n good at it…

  10. - zatoichi - Monday, Oct 28, 13 @ 2:37 pm:

    Saw Lou twice about 10 years apart. His voice, and bands with amazing musicians, created tension filled atmospheres that just pulled you in and you went for the ride. He was just different, an acquired taste that came with time, but always ahead of the pack. Couldn’t get enough of Berlin.

  11. - Former Titan - Monday, Oct 28, 13 @ 2:39 pm:

    New Sensations was a staple at college house parties in the mid-80s. “Turn to Me” remains one of my favorite songs about friendship and reaching out when things aren’t going well. Not an uncommon theme by any stretch, but Lou just had a unique way of expressing those circumstances. RIP.

    When your teeth are ground down to the bone
    and there’s nothing between your legs
    And some friend died of something
    that you can’t pronounce,
    Remember, I’m the one who loves you
    hey baby, you can always give me a call
    Turn to me, turn to me
    turn to me

    You can’t pay your rent, your boss is an idiot
    and your apartment has no heat
    And your wife says, “Maybe
    it’s time to have a child”
    Remember, I’m the one who loves you
    and you can always give me a call
    Turn to me, turn to me
    turn to me

    I’m just a phone call away

  12. - Anonymous - Monday, Oct 28, 13 @ 2:44 pm:

    Lou had to be dynamite at cocktail parties

  13. - Michelle Flaherty - Monday, Oct 28, 13 @ 2:56 pm:

    I always found dark comfort in this line from New York’s “Sick of You” and Reed’s almost sunny delivery of it.

    Well one thing is certainly true
    no one here knows what to do
    I’m Sick of You

  14. - Anonymous - Monday, Oct 28, 13 @ 3:23 pm:

    A dark, dark, man. Very talented. I saw him twice in concert in the mid 80s. Great shows. I guess New Sensations would be his one “up” album even though his buddy George was running around with that killing stick.

  15. - railrat - Monday, Oct 28, 13 @ 3:27 pm:

    AAHHH the Aragon “brawlroom” 1970ish’the “haze” the vomit the etc. etc. and Lou Reed !!! what a great time !!!

  16. - Observing - Monday, Oct 28, 13 @ 3:32 pm:

    I still have my vinyl of Nico and the Velvet Underground. A great classic. Wish it still had the banana peel; think one of my pals smoked it. Reed is a loss of a major rock and social influence. Peace.

  17. - Buster - Monday, Oct 28, 13 @ 3:52 pm:

    Well said, Rich.
    Lou was a rare American original.

  18. - Wensicia - Monday, Oct 28, 13 @ 4:16 pm:

    He found incredible ways to express his genius and frustration at the same time. He’ll be missed.

  19. - 10th Indy - Monday, Oct 28, 13 @ 4:40 pm:

    Hearing the news, I was undone and remain without words. Thanks Rich for writing some of them and reminding us that the best way to honor a poet is with their poems.

    Just a perfect day
    you made me forget myself
    I thought I was
    someone else, someone good

    Oh, it’s such a perfect day
    I’m glad I spent it with you
    Oh, such a perfect day
    You just keep me hanging on

  20. - A guy... - Monday, Oct 28, 13 @ 5:04 pm:

    Met him. He was the goods.

  21. - ArchPundit - Monday, Oct 28, 13 @ 5:34 pm:

    New York has been in my head since I heard last night–those three songs Rich points out are some of the most powerful as I’ve ever heard.

    I discovered VU from the covers R.E.M. had on Dead Letter Office and VU taught me how to truly appreciate music. New York came out in January of my senior year in high school I bought it that first day or two–he had a fair amount of coverage on MTV at the time for it–back when they not just played music, but good music some times. It blew me away and I still play it on a regular rotation.

  22. - Just The Way It Is One - Monday, Oct 28, 13 @ 5:35 pm:

    So sad to see another American Classic gone. At least his music, and many of the moving lyrics as were considerately quoted for this Post, will live on forever. I especially loved his line about how “you need a busload of faith to get by,” in which the heart of his message bears the Title of his Song. As we can see in such lyrics, boy, in so many ways he was just tellin’ it like it is…

  23. - MrJM - Monday, Oct 28, 13 @ 5:45 pm:

    “I am tired. I am weary. I could sleep for a thousand years.”

    Amen and amen.

    – MrJM

  24. - Oswego Willy - Monday, Oct 28, 13 @ 6:13 pm:

    Great Post, nothing of any real substance to add, but thatnks to all of you for giving me something to read, and understand the context better of the man, and why I need to know more about Lou Reed.


  25. - Just the Facts - Monday, Oct 28, 13 @ 7:19 pm:

    Outstanding post Rich. You captured it.

  26. - Way South of the Border - Monday, Oct 28, 13 @ 8:06 pm:

    Rich, when you are ready to get out of politics, I hope you will consider a career in rock criticism, as this is one of the better pieces I’ve ever read anywhere. Thanks for a nice dose of poetry on a Monday.

  27. - Amalia - Monday, Oct 28, 13 @ 8:16 pm:

    @ A guy, do tell about meeting Lou!

  28. - vickianna - Monday, Oct 28, 13 @ 8:48 pm:

    What a beautiful tribute. Unexpected and delightful.

  29. - Sickguy chicago - Monday, Oct 28, 13 @ 11:29 pm:

    Rich thanks for mentioning the New York album. That record was the soundtrack to my political awakening as a college student. Not a single one of the half dozen obits i read today mentioned it. That record marked the moment when i grew up.

    Gotta give props to that guitar too - his deceptively simple grit cut like a blade, just like the lyrics. The intro to busload of faith is like a broken beer bottle…angular and jagged, menacing and sharp.

    Mentioning him in same breath as Bukowski is spot on. Keen observers of the darker sides. Unflinching and in some ways romantic.

    A very well written homage Rich. Best I’ve yet read. Ill be cranking that record in the car tomorrow.

  30. - bored now - Tuesday, Oct 29, 13 @ 7:47 am:

    fitting for many of us: “His work spans my life and is woven into it”…

  31. - MrJM - Tuesday, Oct 29, 13 @ 8:11 am:

    Cardinal Gianfranco Ravasi, Vatican culture minister:

    Oh, it’s such a perfect day
    I’m glad I spend it with you
    Oh, such a perfect day
    You just keep me hanging on
    (Lou Reed)

    Like I said, Amen.

    – MrJM

Sorry, comments for this post are now closed.

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