I’m not alone in the sentiment that if Lou Reed hadn’t have been who he was, I would be who I am. Sure, I’d be alive, but I certainly wouldn’t have lived in New York. Nor would I have the musical taste I do. Many of my friends are probably thinking exactly the same thing right now.
People have been discovering Lou Reed for decades. For me, I was a kid growing up in the Midwest, before the instantaneous luxury of the internet when I saw David Johansen of New York Dolls and Buster Poindexter fame on late-night television. I had no opinion about David either way, I’m not sure I knew who he was really, until a friend said, “He is a Lou Reed wannabe in eyeliner.” I was perplexed, but nodded; to me Lou was merely the deep-voiced Walk on Wild Side guy.
Some months later, I’m a slightly older, not especially wiser kid in the Midwest, and the movie American Gigolo is the rage (there is a pun there somewhere – help!). Blondie music is all over the film and I began to read about that band, especially the female lead, Debbie Harry (click for her remembrances of Lou). I took note that she credited Lou Reed for the band’s push forward. I avowed to check him out, but only found one album at the mall’s record store – this was 1981 and shelves were stuffed with REO Speedwagon and Def Leopard. That day, I purchased The Velvet Underground & Nico. Then, I understood.
By the time I heard Waiting for the Man, I wanted to hear more; and with Heroin, even my school girl mind knew this was significant music. A short time later, I special ordered Transformer. Van Halen, AC/DC, Rush: were disappointingly sub par.
Rather than singing, he said things – ironic, unhappy, aggressive, sexy, mischievous, sweet things – Lou said them aloud. Sometimes even complete sentences, which were placed in such a way that it felt only a few of us were luck enough to be privy to an inside joke.
Through the years I dug deeper, discovering hordes of bands trying to emulate the New York City scene that the Velvet Underground had created and with which I identified – the New York Dolls, David Bowie, The Ramones, The Cramps, Talking Heads, B-52s, Patti Smith. It all goes back to Lou Reed. American Live Wire said, “Reed was glam rock before David Bowie, punk rock before the Sex Pistols, alternate rock before anyone even heard that term.”
I don’t think my interests would be so diverse had I not immersed myself in something shaped by Lou and VU. It’s as if when Lou spoke to me all those years ago, I responded with an acceptance of music, culture, and a City greater than what I could have assembled for myself. It all changed when I heard Waiting for the Man because the man was Lou Reed.