Now, I’m sure there’s a fair number of folks out there who are thinking “Lou Reed? The guy who sings Walk On The Wild Side?” or “You mean that dude that ruined Metallica last year?”
Yeah, I’m talking about that guy. Lou Reed. A genius songwriter throughout his entire career and a serious madman at various times as well.
Though Lou only has only one hit single to his credit (doot da doot da doot doot doot doo), he’s written some of the most important and enduring songs of all time. First, as the leader of the Velvet Underground – Sweet Jane. Rock and Roll. Heroin. I’ll Be Your Mirror. Sister Ray (a sure of music madness, that one). Then as a solo artist – the aforementioned Walk On The Wild Side. Perfect Day. Vicious. Dirty Boulevard. Set The Twilight Reeling. Junior Dad (that one from the much maligned Lulu album).
David Bowie wrote Queen Bitch about Lou, because Lou could be moody back in the 70’s. And he could be certifiable. This is a man who followed up his commercial breakthrough, Transformer, with a bleak and depressing concept album called Berlin (it’s also a classic, by the way). During the 70’s, highlights of Lou Reed’s concerts often came when he’d pretend to shoot up while performing Heroin. That would be cause for talk even today. Or there was the time Lou shaved iron crosses into his skull. Seriously.
Perhaps the greatest evidence of the madness of Lou Reed back in the 70’s came with Metal Machine Music. Two albums, four sides of absolutely unlistenable noise that he swore wasn’t a joke. I owned it on cd years ago and lasted roughly 5 minutes before I had to turn it off and admit that Lou was nuts.
Then the 70’s became the 80’s, 90’s and so on. Lou married, divorced, reunited with the Velvet Underground, broke up with them again, and made some beautiful solo albums. He married performance artist Laurie Anderson, but still chased his muse to the strangest places. A double disc set inspired by the work of Edgar Allan Poe titled The Raven. Then Lulu, another double disc set, this time with Metallica. Lots of people hated it. But I love Lou Reed, so I couldn’t. And Junior Dad. Wow. Junior Dad.
Lou Reed turns 70 years old today. I met him once, after a show in Toronto in 1996. I had tears in my eyes when we shook hands. He was, believe it or not, so friendly, though he did look a little skepticle of the emotion I was showing. But Lou’s music had helped me through some dark times and to meet him was something special. It was brief, but I’ll always remember it.
Happy birthday, Lou Reed. Thanks for the music, the memories and those moments of madness throughout your career.