I woke up around noon on Sunday, October 27th. I was very emotionally invested in that week’s episode of Parenthood when I got a text from Rolling Stone’s Twitter that read “Lou Reed has died at age 71.” I’m a fairly unexpressive person but the second I read this I audibly shouted (alone in my dorm room) “WHAT DO YOU MEAN” to my iPhone. I was sad. Really fucking sad. (The fact that I was in the middle of a depressing Parenthood scene certainly didn’t help).
The Velvet Underground was the first real band I ever truly loved. I like to think “White Light/White Heat” was the first song I ever learned on guitar, but really it was probably either some Hebrew song my temple’s cantor taught me or “The Day That I Die” by Good Charlotte. But anyway, I discovered The Velvet Underground around the same time I picked up my first guitar, a very cheap black and white Yamaha (and a very convincing Fender Strat knockoff, I might add) that I still use today. At this time, I was about to turn thirteen and was just discovering my tastes. The VU marked my first foray into “good music.” They served as my gateway band that led me to discover acts like The Kinks, The Stooges, and Sonic Youth. I then bought The Velvet Underground and Nico on vinyl, bought a shirt and phone case with the album’s banana design on it, bought one of those vintage cardboard concert posters you see in old record stores. I endured both equally awful films “Prozac Nation” and “Lulu on the Bridge” just to see Lou’s brief cameos.
I was super obnoxious about it all, but I much prefer the term “committed”. A lot of adults tend to regard teenagers with a lot of contempt. They claim we’re impressionable and pigeonhole us all into one specific, infantile demographic. I’m not making a case for the “beliebers” here but I do think a certain level of passion and commitment is something only teenagers can effectively harness. Which is sort of nice in a way. We’re at that threshold between childhood and adulthood, trying to not only learn about the world around us but ourselves at the same time. I can only hope to hold on to or even expand my appreciation and passion for music as I get older. But, anyway, back to Lou. I wouldn’t exactly say my life was “saved by rock ‘n roll”, but it was definitely made better when I first torrented Transformer and New York way back in the Golden Age of Pirate Bay.
And it may have been my fascination with Lou or the fact that I had just seen The Craft for the first time or maybe a combination of both, but I had started wearing all black clothing and sunglasses a lot. Lou was cool and listening to him made me feel cool. He was the first musician I ever connected to and he wouldn’t be the last. I think it’s great if you’re able to find an artist that you relate to so strongly that they can influence how you dress and think and feel and listen to music. (I never felt the urge to try heroin though, I feel I should point that out. It’s a great song though).
Aside from Lou’s influence on me, I’m thankful for his influence on bands I love. Brian Eno once said of the first VU record, “Everyone who bought one of those 30,000 copies started a band.” David Bowie, Joy Division, the Pixies, The Dandy Warhols, The Jesus and Mary Chain, Big Star. All bands I love that were influenced by Lou and the VU. I’m reminded of a Julian Casablancas interview I read a couple of years ago and the interviewer asked “Beatles or the Stones?” to which Julian responded “The Velvet Underground.” That quote always stuck with me for some reason.
The night before Lou died, I had watched I Shot Andy Warhol for the first time. Yo La Tengo was in the film, and they played a band that was reminiscent of the VA. I fangirled at this realization, as Yo La Tengo is also one of my favorite bands. After the movie, I got the urge to listen to Loaded on Spotify . And then I went to sleep. When I woke up around noon the next day, I learned that Lou died, fittingly, on a Sunday morning.
Patti Smith wrote a beautifully poignant piece on Lou for the New Yorker and she ended it so perfectly that I’m not even going to try to compete. She wrote: “Before I slept, I searched for the significance of the date—October 27th—and found it to be the birthday of both Dylan Thomas and Sylvia Plath. Lou had chosen the perfect day to set sail—the day of poets, on Sunday morning, the world behind him.”
This is a cover I did a week after Lou passed. It’s a medley of some of my favorites. I recorded it in my small, sad excuse for a dorm room while my roommate was blasting Karmin in our kitchen. But, as Lou once wrote “I’m tired of living all alone / Yeah, nobody ever calls me on the phone / But when things start getting bad / I just play my music louder.”