Lou Reed (1942-2013)


I might be among the world’s least likely fans of Lou Reed, who died Sunday at 71. (This Associated Press obituary is very good.)

He famously devoted a song to heroin; I’ve never even tried pot. He was as New York as Woody Allen; I’m a small-town guy who’s only been to NYC once. He walked on the wild side; I walk on the mild side. (What we have in common, perhaps, is walking.)

But after Dylan, I may own more Lou Reed records than anyone else in my collection, both solo works and his ’60s band, the Velvet Underground. (See photo above, although I actually forgot a couple of box sets and albums.) His music had a lot of range, from dissonance and experimentation to ballads that reflected his love of doo-wop and other classic pop forms.

His lyrics often explored the grimier side of life, yet the college-educated Reed wrote about all sorts of things, far more so than about anyone else you can likely name. One favorite, “Doin’ the Things That We Want To,” is a paean to the plays of Sam Shepard and movies of Martin Scorsese. He’d been on my mind lately because of his elegiac track “The Day John Kennedy Died.”

My album choices would be the VU’s “The Velvet Underground and Nico,” “The Velvet Underground” (their third album), “Loaded” and “Live 1969,” and his solo albums “Coney Island Baby,” “The Blue Mask,” “New Sensations” and “New York,” although if my house were burning I’d try to grab a bunch more. Of course a novice could probably get by with a best-of or two, but which ones? Most are either too much or not enough or, like “The Essential Lou Reed,” kind of a jumble.

On vacation two weeks ago I picked up “Between Thought and Expression,” his out-of-print solo three-disc boxed set, used, for an absurd $10 (Boo-Boo Records in San Luis Obispo probably wishes it had this back). It’s the only chronological best-of and has the stray track “Little Sister”; I’ve kept my LP copy of the otherwise-forgotten “Get Crazy” soundtrack solely for this song. The box also gave me “Satellite of Love” and “Perfect Day,” two of his catchiest songs but ones I didn’t own. Buying it, I felt like my collection was complete — and, as it turns out, just in time.

He had some weird or terrible albums too, and the Upland-based band Wckr Spgt prankishly released a cassette last year in which they covered some of his biggest misfires, like “Egg Cream,” “Disco Mystic” and “Original Wrapper.”

I could write a column about Lou, but may not get to it, what with an Upland City Council meeting tonight that ought to take precedence. (If I do write one later in the week, this post may be something of a dry run.) I never met him, never saw him in concert, but he’s been an important figure in my life anyway. All tomorrow’s parties won’t be the same.

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