When I heard earlier this year that Lou Reed had had a liver transplant, I realised his time was probably limited, but his death yesterday is one to be deeply grieved. He was not just a giant of popular music, but also of art and performance.
The announcement was made during 6 music’s Now Playing, that was featuring tracks by Arcade fire, so they immediately switched to an on the fly soundtrack of the master’s hits and those he inspired. Which was probably the best way to hear of it, if there is a good way to hear such tragic news.
I loved his performance with Philip Glass during the Occupy Wall Street event two years ago, when they were protesting at the behaviour of the Lincoln Centre, where Glass’s work was being performed.
Brian Eno claimed that the Velvet Underground’s first album only sold 100 copies in England, but everyone who bought it went on to form a band. Or more. It is still hard to imagine that this ground breaking band, the one that inspired Eno, David Bowie and heaven only knows how many others, never made any money when they were first formed; in fact drummer Mo Tucker claims she had to drop out in order to make some money.
Reed claimed he hated show business and pleaded to be taken out into the woods and shot if he ever became part of it.
When asked why he thought the band was so famous, he claimed they were the only ones writing about adult subjects. He said it was not like shooting fish in a barrel: the field was wide open.
Like many of the great pioneering pop musicians, he was also a huge fan of jazz, which is clear from his ‘Walk on the wild Side’ using Herbie Hancock on bass.
At the recent GQ awards, he said, ‘There’s only one occupation that can really change the world and that’s rock ‘n’ roll. I believe in rock and roll and I believe in punk. ‘
David Bowie told a story of how he was in New York and went to a gig by the Velvet Underground; he was so blown away by them he went back stage to talk to Lou. John Cale answered the door and sent Lou to talk to him, which they did for 15 minutes. when Bowie got back to his friend’s flat, he was told Reed had left eh band a year earlier, that he had spoken to Doug Yule. Bowie said he doesn’t care. He still tells people he spoke to Lou.
Possibly the best story about his music was that of a DJ whose dog was constantly at her feet, so listened to as much music as anyone. The dog never made a sound except when the female backing singers started on ‘Walk on the Wild Side’ when she would howl along with it. What was that about?
Somehow, I feel sure that whereever he is, Lou Reed is still walking on the wild side.