“One chord is fine. Two chords are pushing it. Three chords and you’re into jazz”
Lou Reed was a formative part of my teenage life and it was a real shock when I heard the news of his death at 71 yesterday. I say shocked, but not surprised. Based on Reed’s chemical intake earlier in his life I guess that, on paper, it was something of a miracle that he lived as long as he did. He reportedly said that he gave up drugs using alcohol, but that didn’t work … Nonetheless, a sad day which must be marked by a sad song …. What did Lou Reed mean to me? Lou Reed was not afraid to write songs that dealt with difficult themes such as addiction, depression, terminal illness, poverty, politics to name but a few. Some will of course say that music is meant to be bouncy and happy. Lou Reed gave music an ability to deal with subjects well beyond sugary pop. It’s always bemused me that the BBC chose the song “Perfect Day” as it’s theme tune for Children In Need, when some say the song deals with Heroin addiction. Lou Reed also taught me about the use of feedback in music and indeed, the art of noise. Reed was not exactly a flash guitarist in the traditional sense of the word, but he did know how to use noise and tone to illustrate a piece of music – critics would even say annoy. Perhaps the most extreme statement of this ‘rock’n'roll animal’ came from his album “Metal Machine Music”, which consisted of 64 minutes of seemingly unstructured white and pink noise. Following hot on the heels of a hit album this tested his audience’s patience (and that of RCA, his record company) to destruction. Rolling Stone Magazine described it as “the tubular groaning of a galactic refrigerator” A slightly more palatable example of Lou Reed’s animal approach to noise comes from “Sister Ray” by the Velvet Underground: The lyrical quality of Reed’s songs have also had an impact on me at a deep level. Essentially poetry set to music, his words are direct and his delivery speaks directly to the person, almost as if he is sitting next to you in a room. It is perhaps this aspect of his writing that has set him apart from others. Reed’s acidic wit, a willingness to go to places that other people would not touch and the simple beauty of his words have made a long term impact on me. I wrote about Lou Reed, Andy Warhol and the Factory as an exemplar of innovation in the book “The Music of Business” – little did I know just how little time he had left to live. Just as well he made the most of it. In his own words:
“My week beats your year”
What did Lou Reed mean to others? Václav Havel found inspiration in darkness from the Velvet Underground’s music, when he was a Czech dissident.
“The first Velvet Underground album only sold 10,000 copies, but everyone who bought it formed a band.”
“RIP Lou Reed 71. You defined New York City. Too f****** young. Wayy too young. Berlin one of my most loved albums”
Here’s a performance of Reed’s song “Pale Blue Eyes” by my good friend Richard Strange with Peter Capaldi and Sarah Jane Morris, which perhaps sums up the long term influence of Lou Reed’s songwriting on others:
What did Lou Reed mean to Lou Reed?
“It’s depressing when you’re still around and your albums are out of print”
“I do Lou Reed better than anyone else”
“I don’t like nostalgia unless it’s mine”
“That’s why I survived because I still believe I’ve got something to say”
What did Lou Reed mean to you? For more on the topic, check out The Factory. Share your thoughts here. Lou Reed, 1943 – 2013 R.I.P.