Currywurds - Devourable Content
August 2018

WA Retrospective On My Relationship With Lou Reed

Mackenzie Patel
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I’m {still} waiting for my man {as gritty and incredible as Lou Reed}.
I was introduced to Lou Reed’s music the day he died (October 27th, 2013) – 16 and driving with my father to high school at 6:30 a.m., I remember NPR lamenting the death of this “prickly and contrarian” man. Who’s Lou Reed? I wondered, rubbing sleep out of my eyes and worrying more about zits than the passing of an American rock icon. The opening bars of Vicious and Walk on the Wild Side played softly, piquing my half-asleep interest.

And the colored girls go ‘Doo doo doo doo doo doo doo doo doo.’
Five years later, and I’m still dancing around in underwear to Andy’s Chest, There She Goes Again, and Femme Fatale. The catalyst for this piece was discovering Pale Blue Eyes – a European friend from my Mac DeMarco group chat recommended it, and it’s been on a saddening repeat. It’s a far cry from New York City blowjobs and shooting up backstage, but Lou’s voice is still forlorn, nostalgic – affecting. Crying and thoughts of previous relationships are inevitable, but there’s more than emotions. Nearly six minutes of pervasive calm and an awareness of time are sewn into Lou’s vocals…so I linger on, with dark brown eyes.
Lou’s discography is extensive, and buried in the countless live versions, remastered versions, 45th anniversary versions, etc., there are 22 solo albums and 5 Velvet Underground albums with original tunes. Lou Reed is drawn out, drawled out rock, the kind that accompanies liquor nights and smoking cigarettes. The famous Velvet Underground & Nico album from 1967 (the one with an Andy Warhol banana on the cover) left the deepest impression, songs like Sunday Morning and I’ll Be Your Mirror exposing me to New York in the 60s. I remember sitting in Spanish 3 class in high school, humming Heroin and filling out a worksheet on the past participle tense. My friend, a popular girl with flawless skin, asked me “What are you listening to?”

I was reeling, completely caught up in the chaos and nails-on-chalkboard and the tipsy verge of death Lou Reed fiddled like a tightrope.

Ah, when that heroin is in my blood
Heh, and that blood is in my head
Then thank God that I'm as good as dead
And thank your God that I'm not aware
And thank God that I just don't care

I put my pencil down and rolled my eyes forward, so caught up was I in this second-hand cataclysm.


We didn’t talk much after that.
It was hard for me to get into European Son or The Black Angel’s Death Song, but I appreciate the experimentation, the sounds that hurt my head but drew me in nonetheless. When I was making my drug name playlist (songs that have drugs in the title), Sweet Jane was a natural fit. Jane, the clerk, and Jack, the banker, are as innocent as Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds but that element of “cool” made Lou Reed so otherworldly to me. When the biggest drama in my life was competing for valedictorian, this underground life of rock & roll and transvestites in art history circles was a gateway to real music taste.
Kareem Tayyar’s poem, Listening to Lou Reed on the Subway, 2:45 a.m., captures this spiritual feeling:

Moon and starlight beyond the windows like so much black-and-white graffiti
You tell me all about Candy Darling

Appearing in the 13th volume of Review Americana, this poem exemplifies my belief that “everything good happens at night” – and listening to Lou Reed is no different. It’s 1:15 a.m., I’m wearing nothing but wet hair and a middle school shirt, and Satellite of Love plays from my record player. You can’t tell me that sounds better in the daylight.

I recently bought the Lou Reed album Transformer at my local record store - $22 for infinite feeling and flashbacks to the Dali Museum’s party for the Andy Warhol exhibit. I was 17 and alone, floating through the glass museum amidst 60-year-olds wearing Andy’s trademark wig. The collection was flooring – the Dali was blasting Sweet Jane – and 60s rock scarred me for good. I credit my affinity for David Bowie, Iggy Pop, Lou Reed, The Rolling Stones, The Clash, etc. to this weird era of AP computer science and surrealism.
Lou Reed and The Velvet Underground also gave me priceless life advice: not losing my head when giving head, avoiding heroin, and learning that villains always blink their eyes. David Bowie taught me how to create an alter ago (i.e. Ziggy and Lady Stardust), but Lou Reed helped me embrace all my idiosyncrasies. I also relate to his background – his father was an accountant, and according to Reed, he made “$40 a day” helping with his father’s office. My accounting degree is fine but believing in a greater destiny in the likes of Lou Reed makes tax bracket calculations easier.
Lou Reed is oft reduced to a drunk and drug user, an accountants’ son and a victim of hepatitis and liver disease. But these pale in importance to his musical contributions: experimentation, lasciviousness, and individuality. These qualities, combined with the cultural innovations of the 60s/70s, created a breeding ground for really catchy shit, the kind of newness that lands you an NPR feature on your death day. 
I watched the movie Velvet Goldmine this weekend, which is based loosely on the life of David Bowie (recasted as Brian Slade), Iggy Pop, and Lou Reed. The latter two were fused into one character, Curt Wild (played by Ewan McGregor). The script dropped hints about Lou Reed’s electroshock therapy as a child and his Jewish background, but it was sad seeing this legend reduced to half a character. Reed wasn’t just his own character – he was three – four – five – different men, but whether in withdrawal or in love, he was himself.  
Lou, you are a mountaintop, a peak, even in death. I only wish I’d listened to you before October 27th, 2013.  

Images from Wikipedia Commons