Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Lou Reed

I guess it was over a year ago now that I began to watch the episodes of Elvis Costello's Showtime program "Spectacle" that are available on Netflix.  One of his first episodes featured Lou Reed, in a conversation with the host that was entirely engrossing and fascinating.  In one of the many tributes to Reed published and/or posted in the past few days, the writer noted that Reed was famous for, as much as anything else, being one of the most public assholes of our time.  And while from all accounts Reed did not suffer fools (or anyone else, for that matter) gladly, he was great in his interview with Costello, and one of the best guests to have appeared on the show.  But for all the great conversation, the highlight of the program was Reed performing, with Costello, "Set the Twilight Reeling," in a performance that can be best described as shattering.  The title of one of Reed's live albums was "Take No Prisoners," and in his performance of the song with Costello, he certainly didn't.

That Reed meant so much to so many was clearly evident from the Twitter postings in the first hour following the announcement of his death, when everyone from Ann Powers to Rob Sheffield to Wil Wheaton to Bill Simmons expressed their shock and grief over his passing.  Like I'm sure was the case with many others, my introduction to Reed came with "Walk on the Wild Side," his fluke Top 40 hit from the early 1970s.  I remember reading about "Metal Machine Music" and being amused, without having any desire to buy, or even listen to, the album.  I remember reading Tom Carson's review of "Street Hassle," and even though by that time my tastes were moving more in that direction, it still didn't move me to buy the album.  No, the first Reed album for me was "The Bells," prompted by a Lester Bangs rave that frankly didn't make a lot of sense to me upon hearing the album.

Reed didn't really come into focus for me until the '80s, with a series of what I thought were outstanding-to-great albums, including several that are visible in the above picture.  This was also around the time that the original Velvet Underground albums were re-released, as well as some VU material that had never seen the light of day.  And while it's probably fair to say that I never became as obsessed with Reed as many others did, there was little question then (and there is none now) that in many ways, Reed was the very manifestation of what Robert Christgau once referred to as "semi-popular music." 

Lou Reed, in short, was one of the giants.  The kind of guy that you think is always going to be around.  If nothing else, just to figure out some new way to confound or confuse people.  Unforunately, things never seem to work out quite that way. 


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