special disco mention #7: Lou Reed
We don’t usually do obituaries at R$N, but, then again, Lou Reed doesn’t usually die.
The first time I was personally introduced to the man was via my Dad’s obsession with The Velvet Undergound and his insistence on playing Black Angel’s Death Song at full volume when I was about 5 years old. Needless to say, I absolutely fucking hated it. Actually, hate isn’t quite the right word – I was terrified of it. All that squalling noise was not what I was about, I was into Abracadabra by The Steve Miller Band – this mess of noise and distortion made me feel sick.
Imagine my horror then, when my dad followed up this introduction by playing Metal Machine Music to his young impressionable son. At least The Velvet Underground occasionally had a semblance of a tune under the racket. As far as I could tell MMM was just racket, underneath many other layers of racket.
I was fascinated, though. If not by the ‘music’ per se, more so the reaction it ilicited in my dad and his mates. Here were grown adults, most of them musicians, who usually listened to the blues, folk, funk, soul – music that you could undertsand, music that had a structure that was easily grasped, music that sounded, well, good. What had happened to them? Had they collectively lost their minds, their ears? I came up against the music of Lou Reed again and again over the years and slowly, very slowly, some of it began to make a bit more sense.
As a person, of course, he was famously confrontational, coming across as an asshole during many interviews, not least on this occasion, or this one. But I suppose he had to be really. If you’re making music as conforntational as he did in his career, it would be wrong to be kindly away from the studio/stage. It would make the whole thing appear to be an act, and in Lou Reed’s case, he genuinely lived his art. His cantankerous, aggressive nature is what drive him to break the mould with The Velvet Underground (obviously, not overlooking the genius of John Cale) which inspired everyone from Bowie to Byrne and smashed open the doors to a new era in popular music. In the end, for me, Lou Reed’s greatest legacy isn’t his music, it was his attitude towards music – his furious desire to make somthing different, to challenge the listener – that was his most important contribution to the artform. For that alone, we think he’s worthy of this week’s doff of the cap and a resounding special disco mention. The afterlife just got a bit more spiky.