I always wanted to be as cool as Lou Reed. When I was in my early teens I'd listen to a lot of material from the era of music that produced Reed and Bowie and Iggy and try to imagine how the hell they came up with the sounds and lyrics they did. I'd try to understand what kind of experiences led Reed to write songs like Pale Blue Eyes and Walk on the Wild Side. I wanted to know the feeling that, through nothing more than a series of crescendoing sonics, Reed and the Velvet Underground conveyed in Heroin. I wanted all of that. I wanted to understand. I wanted to feel.
It's difficult to put into words not only the impact that Lou Reed had on music and culture, but exactly what it was that made him such a singular presence in rock-and-roll in the first place (although many have tried, some with slightly more success than others). He defined a spirit that thousands and thousands of musicians have tried to copy since and none have truly been able to capture -- and maybe the reason for that lies in the fact that they were trying. Reed didn't have to try -- he just was. He was a true original and in many ways the human embodiment of New York City's bohemian underground in the late-60s and early-70s. This may seem like a contradiction, but that's another thing that made Reed so great -- he was a lot of contradictions, so many things at once. Darkness and light, beauty and ugliness, humor and cynicism, an embracing of the avant-garde and a reveling in society's decay. Lyrics that were both opaque and crystal clear. Drugs and honest sexuality and an innate sense of mischief combined with just not giving a shit about anything at all.
There are very few artists in music who can truly be considered iconic, and Reed was one of them. There's never been anyone like him and I'm not sure there ever will -- or ever can -- be again. I still listen to his stuff all the time. I do it now as somebody who grew to finally experience many of those irresistible pleasures and strangely enticing horrors Reed casually sang to me about when I was young. Yet those songs, those feelings, I put on a Lou Reed record and they still transport me to some place I've never been and never will be and give me a brief audience with a guy I could never in a million years be as cool as.
Here's Satellite of Love.