October 27, 2013

Lou Reed, RIP

Lou Reed of the Velvet Underground is dead at 71.

I have this theory that celebrities like Reed live longer, on average, than you or I would if we did the same things to our bodies. They really are better than us, metabolically speaking.

By the way, everybody knows that Science has proven that nobody can change from gay to straight. Except there seem to be various celebrities who have. Reed, for example, always went around saying he was a junkie (here is the Velvet Underground's 1967 epic "Heroin") homosexual. But then when AIDS came along when he was 40, he suddenly was an ex-junkie ex-homosexual.

(Here are the lyrics from the title track of his 1984 cleaning-up-my-act-so-I-don't-die album New Sensations: a nice appreciation of the nondecadence of Middle America.) 

A good chord progression on a guitar: you can't beat it:

Also, I'd like to point out the virtues of a clattering sound.

109 comments:

Claude A.K. Brownlee said...

Check it:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ydA0bmL-UEk

carol said...

Can't beat it? You should hear the melodies and sophisticated harmonic structures that used to be common in pop music.

We boomers were robbed.

anony-mouse said...

The more interesting thing are all the heterosexuals (Iman, Bill de Blasio) who marry them.

Whiskey said...

Steve, I'm not so sure about Celebrities vs. ordinary people health. For every Lou Reed and Keith Richards (who said he only did the very best of drugs and that's why he lasted as long as he has), you have Michael Jackson. A guy propped up on whatever medical stuff a doctor feelgood can rustle up to just get him on stage and making money.

My guess is that it balances out. Celebrities get better treatment and health for things like addiction, but on the other end face far more pressure to generate the enormous amounts of money for their hangers on, families, and creditors.

Sad Reed passed, he was a guy who was more influential for those popular musicians who copied him rather than what the Velvet Underground or his solo career did.

A Working Class American said...

hey, steve, take a walk on the straight side...

Power Child said...

@Carol:

I know I'm outspoken in this, at least among iSteve readers, but I insist that early 90s alternative rock was an oasis of musical sophistication. Odd time signatures and rhythmic subdivisions, unorthodox song structures, cryptic and abstract lyrics, rapid or abrupt key changes, unusual instrumentation, obscure harmonies and modes (not to mention guitar tunings)--these things were almost common for bands like Soundgarden, Helmet, Alice in Chains, and Faith No More. (The words "power child" are taken from lyrics to a Soundgarden hit, "Outshined," that features verses in 7/4 time signature and whose key shifts between D minor and D major with a flat 7.) I don't think popular music has seen anything like it, at least not to that extent, before or since.

Of course, early 90s alt rock appealed mostly to Gens X and Y--not to the boomers. So I guess they were still robbed.

nooffensebut said...

I like to think of Lou Reed as the first real rock musician. Elvis, Bob Dylan, The Beatles, and so forth are "roots rock" from the time before cool was invented. People hated Reed for his album Metal Machine Music. Now, industrial rock is in car commercials. Why is that when whites (and Jews) create something new, it is a "genre," but rap is a whole new form of music?

Seth said...

My favorite tribute to the Velvet Underground: Lawrence Welk doing "Sister Ray."

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i48BP1PUoFI

Lou Reed was a great, great songwriter and poet in the tradition of Keats and Baudelaire.

Also, he had a great track "Good Evening Mr. Waldheim" on "New York" which lambasted Jesse Jackson.

Seth said...

My favorite tribute to the Velvet Underground: Lawrence Welk doing "Sister Ray."

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i48BP1PUoFI

Lou Reed was a great, great songwriter and poet in the tradition of Keats and Baudelaire.

Also, he had a great track "Good Evening Mr. Waldheim" on "New York" which lambasted Jesse Jackson.

Anonymous said...

"By the way, everybody knows that Science has proven that nobody can change from gay to straight"

Um, no. Reparative theory has been debunked. This different than the claim that sexuality is absolutely rigid (which is obviously false).

Anonymous said...

"Reed, for example, always went around saying he was a junkie homosexual, but then when AIDS came along when he was about 40, he suddenly was an ex-junkie ex-homosexual."

Having known enough gays to have an opinion on the matter, there are definitely a large fraction of them who "came out" so far into adulthood that it's hard to take at face value their claim that it isn't at least partly a choice for some of them. Maybe they were 50/50 and could go either way, or maybe they experimented and found that they liked it.

Gays bitch about being oppressed, but in some ways they're freer than straights. Gay men can act like men, or they can act like Sean Hayes on "Will & Grace," and large numbers of people will accept it. At the very worst extreme, they can take petulance, stubbornness, and sarcasm to heights unequalled by heteros, male or female. And people find it funny.

Straight men can't get away with that shit.

Glossy said...

"Elvis, Bob Dylan, The Beatles, and so forth are "roots rock" from the time before cool was invented."

What the hell does that mean? Young Elvis was cool. Lord Byron was cool. I've seen pics of ancient Greek vases with painted scenes on them depicting guys trying hard to look cool. And sometimes succeeding at it.

As far as rock & roll vs. rock, Purple Haze and Sunshine of Your Love already sounded like the latter, and I'm assuming that they weren't the first songs to do so.

Anonymous said...

I turned 65 a few months ago.

I saw a headline saying this Reed guy died. I had never heard his name.

Anonymous said...

I turned 65 a few months ago.

I saw a headline saying this Reed guy died. I had never heard his name.


Reed and the Velvet Underground were always more popular with critics and art scene types than popular rock fans. Many people have never heard of Reed or the Velvet Underground.

Ichabod Crane said...

Power Child said...
@Carol

I agree, early 90s rock was an oasis of good music.

What caused the change for the worse since then?

Anonymous said...

*Many people have never heard of Reed or the Velvet Underground.*

Well, I knew about him when I was a kid, and I wasn't a critic and didn't belong to any scene at all. The divide is really just between the Top 40 crowd and everyone else.

Observing from the Sidelines said...

Others who changed from gay to straight: Stephen Spender; John Maynard Keynes; and ironically, singer Tom Robinson, who composed the gay lib anthem "Glad to Be Gay." Turns out he's glad to be bi.

Steve Sailer said...

I didn't know that about Tom Robinson, but it's not surprising he turned out not to be as gay as he claimed to be in 1979: he was kind of a straight-ahead meathead rocker ("2-4-6-8 Motorway"). Not exactly Cole Porter:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GMy2bmSAIeA

Claude A.K. Brownlee said...

"But then when AIDS came along when he was 40, he suddenly was an ex-junkie ex-homosexual."

Well, I've personally known people who will boink pretty much anything that moves, is warm and is self-aware. There's a long, long spectrum of sexual peccadillos.

Have you ever seen Lou interviewed? He's a pretty vacant guy; sort of confused and inarticulate. I've heard him described in Guitar Player magazine as a "protean guitarist." Perhaps that sums up his entire personality.

In my opinion though, he lost it after the Velvet Underground. After that he was just another outrageous poseur living on his rep. The Velvets were absolutely astounding, but after that it was all style, a minimum of substance.

Anonymous said...

I don't think Reed ever claimed to be gay. After all, he bedded the lovely Nico toward the beginning of his career and wrote about it in his Velvet Underground days. In the 70s he experimented with transvestism and homosexuality because it seemed like a cool, decadent pose at that time. Whether his dropping it had anything to do with AIDS, I don't know. I've known other basically straight guys who have experimented a bit with homosexuality, though.

Matt in Logan Circle said...

With the coming de Blasio victory, will we see a return to the grimy, dangerous NYC that inspired Reed, Scorsese?

As for gayness...I'm gay and I was engaged to a woman. Broke it off, though we remain friends. I was never attracted to her (or any woman, for that matter); it is a matter of fitting in -- which is why gay marriage is oxymoronic, ridiculous. If you want to join that world, you have to do it properly, with a member of the opposite sex. Otherwise, it's just ridiculous, reeks of insecurity.

Anonymous said...

Miley Cyrus, according to her tweets, is crestfallen. Quite humble of her, considering she is the superior artist.

Anonymous said...

He's a self-identified bisexual.

C. Van Carter said...

Seeing Reed walk down the street in New York inspired George A. Romero to make Night of the Living Dead.

Anonymous said...

it is a matter of fitting in -- which is why gay marriage is oxymoronic, ridiculous.

This could be said about gay sex as well, no?

Anonymous said...

>> I insist that early 90s alternative rock was an oasis of musical sophistication

not sophisticated musicians.... sophisticated clean-ups and sweetening boxes in the studio.

Lou Reed's work had to be tediously fixed by nerdy studio engineers. Just like everyone else who didn't study music. Those boxes mostly just weren't widely available before the early '90s. By the way, the origin of the boxes is in mathematical theory of finding oil/gas deposits by "sonar" means. Yep, you can thank Big Oil for it.

There really hasn't been a new literary plot since the ancient Greeks, nor a new musical sound since the evenly-tempered piano tuning.

Mr. Anon said...

"Here are the lyrics from the title track of his 1984 cleaning-up-my-act-so-I-don't-die album New Sensations: a nice appreciation of the nondecadence of Middle America."

The Velveeta Underground

Portlander said...

Hehe, survivor bias. :)

celebrities live longer than you or I would if we did the same things to our bodies.

Except for the ones that don't? Williams Sr, Hendrix, Joplin, Monroe, Wilson, Barrett, Cobain, etc. Is pre-existing psychological supposed to not count? You did throw "metabolically" in there at the end.

Or it really is confirmation bias? If one considers all the more talented studio musicians washing out of the "celebrity track" when it become obvious they can't keep up with "the lifestyle."

Matt in Logan Circle said...

This could be said about gay sex as well, no?

Marriage is about duty. Sex is secondary and of minor importance, whether gay or straight. There were plenty of men who were 'in that way' but managed to take one for the team and have children.

Of course, there were confirmed bachelors, perpetually single men who 'valued their privacy' and were survived by their 'longtime companion', Boston marriages, etc., but this lifestyle was not afforded legitimacy until recently.

Anonymous said...

Drugs, alcohol, and a warm body can cause a lot of guys living that life (sex, drugs, rock 'n roll) to indulge in all kinds of things. I'd define a gay guy as someone who is turned on by the male form rather than the female form, not just someone who is turned on by the thought of sex itself. I think bis are just decadent, period.

Brian D'Amato said...

Now everybody wants a piece of him for some agenda. But I remember him as just this sweet old guy with a lot of great stories, as though we were sitting around a cracker barrel at the general store. These people should just let his work speak for itself.

Anonymous said...

Did Lou Reed really say he was homosexual? I thought he was bisexual, always.

Do you really think gays can become straight? I don't think so, and it doesn't seem like an idea that has had the most positive effects.

Anonymous said...

I never even knew Reed was supposed to be gay and/or bisexual. I guess that shows how un-mainstream he was compared to Bowie (or John or Mercury) - one could vaguely recognize the name without knowing much about his personal life.

Anonymous said...

Marriage is about duty. Sex is secondary and of minor importance, whether gay or straight. There were plenty of men who were 'in that way' but managed to take one for the team and have children.

You said that "gay marriage" is "a matter of fitting in -- which is why gay marriage is oxymoronic, ridiculous."

This could be said about "gay sex" as well. It's just a matter of "fitting in" and it's "oxymoronic, ridiculous".

Anonymous said...

I like the Velvets, but Lou Reed was spent as a songwriter by the time his solo career got rolling. All his best solo moments were outtakes or recapitulations from those years. Maybe it's the drugs, but it's true of a lot of songwriters. Maybe there's only so much you can do with two chords and no higher music theory.

And some rock critic accurately wrote that he played guitar as if his hands were made of lead.

His VU collaborator John Cale had a more productive solo career although (or because) he never had a hit or became a rock star.

d..... said...

Maybe Lou was never really gay. Or maybe his marriages were shams. I tend to think the latter.

I don't think he was too crazy about what the gay scene mutated into. The media want everyone to think that gay life is one big glamorous party full of gorgeous men, but it's really a small dating pool of nelly bottoms and a few rich and fascistic tops who rule the henhouse. Once you are past 30, forget it, unless you are one of the favored few. And most of the guys really aren't that good looking, aside from a few pretty twinks. Whatever Reed was, he didn't like being associated with this dull crew.

We'll never really know.

Only thing I know about him for sure is that he was quite a shorty. I saw him downtown (where else?) and was a tad taller than he. I'm 5'7" in boots. He was a short little man.

(Dee Dee Ramone was surprisingly tall - about 6 feet I'd say.)

Anonymous said...

You'd think they'd appreciate all those male volunteers offering their services for free. Good luck trying to find women who know as much as male nerds or willing to spend hours sharing their knowledge for free:

"90% of Wikipedia's Editors Are Male—Here's What They're Doing About It

The group that oversees the free encyclopedia is trying to fix a years-old problem."

http://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2013/10/90-of-wikipedias-editors-are-male-heres-what-theyre-doing-about-it/280882/

cthulhu said...

Those saying that Lou Reed was spent after the Velvets and/or couldn't play guitar need to spend time with his three early/mid '80s discs: The Blue Mask, Legendary Hearts, and New Sensations. Vital, creative, grownup rock & roll, with (on the first two) hellaciously good guitar interplay between Reed and the late punk guitar god Robert Quine.

I agree that most of his '70s output was uneven at best and trash at worst; and starting with the New York disc around 1986, he started wobbling again and never really recovered. But between the astounding four Velvets studio albums and the three solo recordings mentioned above, he's in the pantheon of greats.

Matt in Logan Circle said...

This could be said about "gay sex" as well. It's just a matter of "fitting in" and it's "oxymoronic, ridiculous".

No, the exact opposite. If you want to live as an openly gay man, you should expect societal opprobrium -- not pulling your weight by contributing to the next generation!

I don't find women 'exciting', and if I want to marry, have children, then I will have to be with someone I don't find attractive, but this is immaterial. My (or 2% of the population's) individual tastes don't outweigh the need for stability, which only a mother and father can provide.

Power Child said...

not sophisticated musicians.... sophisticated clean-ups and sweetening boxes in the studio.

To take nothing away from the geniuses like Terry Date and Butch Vig who produced the alternative rock of the early 90s, when I called that scene an oasis of sophistication I was mainly referring to the songwriting itself.

Examples of radio hits from the early 90s with atypical musical elements:

-Alice In Chains's "Them Bones," featuring verses in 7/8 and chromatic modulation in the instrumental track (but a vocal melody that remains in D flat minor).

-Soundgarden's "Rusty Cage," featuring a drop-C guitar tuning and an outro in 19/4.

-Nirvana's "Lithium" and Helmet's "Milquetoast" (both produced by Butch Vig, incidentally) using wandering keys, the latter with an unorthodox song structure to boot.

Let me reemphasize that these were all radio hits, not experimental B-sides.

A sweetening box won't make this stuff happen; you have to write it into the music. These songs do that while still remaining catchy and radio-friendly. As far as I can see, that didn't happen much in popular music before the early 90s alternative rock scene and it certainly hasn't happened much since.

Power Child said...

@Ichabod Crane:

What caused the change for the worse since then?

Who can say? I used to think economic hard times, overcast climate, and hard drug use had something to do with it but I'm no longer convinced of that. The most plausible theory I have now is that in the mid/late 80s you had a convergence of a lot of new and interesting but not necessarily good sounds, like new wave punk and hair metal, and that got mixed with a special kind of sarcastic nihilism popular in Seattle in the late 80s ("The Simpsons" was also spawned by Seattle native Matt Groening around then) so by the time the early 90s rolled around all this was digested and refined and people were making music that was at the same time challenging, beautiful, and satisfyingly aggressive.

On the other hand, maybe it was a fluke of the unique tastes of those artists: Chris Cornell was a huge Beatles fan, but he also clearly listened to a lot of black gospel and traditional Indian music. Jerry Cantrell's sound is essentially bluesy but also combines clear heavy metal and country influences. Most of Page Hamilton's friends know him as a jazz guitarist. Etc.

Melvins frontman Buzz Osborn's advice to young songwriters is to steal from what you like, then hide what you've stolen and hide it well. He certainly does.

So who knows.

Anonymous said...

"Reed and the Velvet Underground were always more popular with critics and art scene types than popular rock fans. Many people have never heard of Reed or the Velvet Underground."

Undoubtedly popular with males, not females like me, I'd imagine. Most of us hate that kind of music. I probably heard it on the radio and turned it off immediately.

Anonymous said...

I don't think people can change their sexual orientation. I'm kind of surprised to hear such a suggestion from someone who tends to emphasize the importance of "nature" more than most intellectuals.

First, we have to define what it is we even mean by sexual orientation. I define it in terms of preferences. Heterosexuals have an overwhelming preference for members of the opposite sex. If you asked a heterosexual man to rank 1000 randomly selected people of the same age as him in terms of his sexual/romantic preference, he would rank virtually all females ahead of all males. He might prefer a highly effeminate man over an incredibly ugly woman, and he might prefer a convincing MtF transsexual over a great many genetic women, but these are rare exceptions. By contrast, a bisexual man would prefer some non-transsexual men over a substantial number of women.

I leave behavior out of the equation. Behavior depends on both circumstance and preference. I consider hyper-masculine thugs who have gay sex in prison to be straight, since presumably they'd be having sex with a woman if given the opportunity. Apparently, for many men another man's warm hole is preferable to masturbation.

In fact, a degree of homosexual behavior among ostensibly heterosexual men has been commonplace and widely accepted in many societies (for various reasons). I don't think this indicates the malleability of sexual orientation, but rather the malleability of attitudes towards sexual behavior. In some societies, it's not unusual for a manly man to sleep with a cross-dressing gay. He's looked upon as just a guy getting his rocks off in an easy way (or at least that's how Americans might describe it).

Anyway, what accounts for men who seem to change orientations in our society? Well, obviously I think they're changing their behavior, not their orientation. They may be bisexual. They may have engaged in casual gay sex despite being straight (like prison inmates). Maybe they were pretending to be something they are not, like the gay commenter above who married a woman.

Anonymous said...

To me his best son is "Heroin". But " Walk on the wild side" is also great. This song (Heroin) made me really want to try heroin. So I did. It wasn't as great as they make it out to be.

Dave Pinsen said...

The impact of Nirvana's Nevermind was kind of amazing in how it forced alt rock onto the rock and even pop stations in New York. Before, almost all the bands played by local rock stations were ones that had had hits in the 1970s or earlier. Not that there wasn't great alt-rock in the 80s, but hardly any of it got airplay.

Now, you'll occasionally here Nirvana on New York's classic rock station (ironic, since they wouldn't play them at the time), but otherwise alt rock is gone.

SF said...

Lou Reed was absolutely hated by the WWII generation. My mom said "heroin" made her blood curdle. My dad broke my sister's album. Funny, my dad is still alive at 95.

Whiskey said...

Power Child, 80s musicians from Journey and particularly Van Halen (David Lee Roth era) to Tears for Fears and Psycheledic Furs and Simple Minds and even Human League and Duran Duran were far superior to early 90s stuff lkke Verve Pipe or the Cardigans or New Radicals, who were good mind you but made up mist of the non Seattle crowd.

How can you tell? Easy Hollywood used and uses those musicians in movies and commercials constantly. Heck I'll say Starship was on the whole Superior to Jefferson Airplane. Rolling Stone hates that song but We Built This City is a great pop tune.

Nirvana, Pearl Jam etc are songs to slit your wrists to, Black Hole Sun? Name me an advertiser using Nirvana. Allstate uses Human League.

Re NYC. Daily Mail has story on how cops let homeless and thugs run wild on subways. Scaring people out of there. Id say NYC is already Taxi Driver territory verging on Snake Plissken.

Anonymous said...

No, the exact opposite. If you want to live as an openly gay man, you should expect societal opprobrium -- not pulling your weight by contributing to the next generation!

You don't get it. "Gay sex" is just a matter of "fitting in". Literally. And it's absolutely "oxymoronic" and "ridiculous". "Gay sex" is an oxymoron. Literally. It's literally a contradiction in terms.

Anonymous said...

"One chord is fine. Two chords are pushing it. Three chords and you're into jazz." - Lou Reed

nooffensebut said...

I completely agree with Power Child about 90s music. The early 90s was an incredible time for both guitar-driven rock and electronic rock. Most 80s music survives as a guilty pleasure, with exceptions like Depeche Mode and Peter Gabriel. However, the death of 90s music was foretold from the beginning. Nirvana’s Nevermind was a heavily produced album, and the band members went so far as to change how their names are spelled to appeal to a mass audience. The Rocket was a major Seattle music newspaper at the time, and they despised what Nirvana was doing. A local music scene exploded, and eventually no-talent pop divas like Gwen Stefani and Jennifer Love Hewitt were trying to jump on the bandwagon.

Anonymous said...

Lou Reed meets the press:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mf2pF5oMdP4

Anonymous said...

@Matt in Logan Circle

It is just a matter of "fitting in". It is "oxymoronic, ridiculous". It's an oxymoron. It's literally a contradiction in terms.

Peter the Shark said...

"We Built This City is a great pop tune."

You must have a terrifying empty black void in the place where most humans have a soul. Only the most depraved creatures from the nether depths of some eldritch stygian swamp could find in that "song" anything but a clarion call of ineffable menace from some ancient malevolent power.

Podsnap said...

Lou Reed lived with a transexual 'woman' for a few years in the 70s. I can't find any photos of them both on the internet - they made a truly foul looking couple.

I have spent a lot of time listening to Lou Reed's music over the years. He never could work out if he was an artist or just a rock n' roll guy. He made some great stuff - but most of what he did was dross.

From this -
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=whn3K9Ll5aE

to this -

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uMxyIs8MkmU

But his early lyrics - 'Waiting For The Man', 'Rock n' Roll' and 'Sweet Jane' truly revolutionised rock lyrics.

And for the guy who linked to the Lawsrence Welk version of Sister Ray - great that it cut out the very boring last 15 minutes or so, but it also cut the bit about 'Cecil's new piece' and everybody sucking every body's ding-dong. So a B- for Lawrence.

Titus Didius Tacitus said...

Lou Reed successfully projected a lifestyle and ethnic credentials that made the dominant type of arty rock critic praise him. That legacy will endure.

Anonymous said...

Steve is an Elvis Costello fan; I'm no human Pandora, but I definitely hear Reed influences on Costello - I don't get the appeal, but there is a consistency there.

I didn't know Reed was gay/bi, I never liked him enough to look into it. His music sounds more lesbian, unlike the beautiful castrati-like stuff from Queen, Culture Club and Bronski Beat.

Anonymous said...

"hey really are better than us, metabolically speaking."

Alternatively, having an entourage to make sure your heroin is clean and that you get to the ER if you overdose, not to mention adoring fans making sure you get at least one decent meal a week and maintain your hygiene can be he helpful. How many 71 y.o. junkies get a liver transplant. At the end of his life MJ, at 50, had a doctor supervising his drug use.

If there is one detail of Reed's life I would like to know about is his new liver, how he got it, and whose it was before Reed got it.

Podsnap said...

One other things to say about Lou Reed was that he had that most typical of all rock star diseases, he was a liberal by reflex. He may have had overall a fairly nuanced view on things as evidenced by the 'New Sensations' lyrics Steve linked to, but he simply couldn't resist the pull of a cheap, easy, empathy by numbers, off the rack lyric, like -

Give me your hungry, your tired your poor I'll piss on 'em
that's what the Statue of Bigotry says
Your poor huddled masses, let's club 'em to death
and get it over with and just dump 'em on the boulevard


Throwaway lines like this from 40 years of millionaire rockstars have a great deal to do with why we are where we are now.

Anonymous said...

"Reed and the Velvet Underground were always more popular with critics and art scene types than popular rock fans. Many people have never heard of Reed or the Velvet Underground."

I imagine most people (like myself) have only heard of Reed because of "Walk on the Wild Side." And if most people are like me, they though "if that's the best he has to offer, I think I'll take a pass."

As for his former band, all I know is that the Cowboy Junkies did a far superior cover version of "Sweet Jane".

astorian said...

"The Velvet Underground only sold about a thousand records- but every one of those thousand people became a music critic." - Brian Eno

ben tillman said...

Lou Reed lived with a transexual 'woman' for a few years in the 70s. I can't find any photos of them both on the internet - they made a truly foul looking couple.

That must be the Rachel mentioned here:

http://www.jaynedoll.pwp.blueyonder.co.uk/loureed.html

Lots of interesting stuff there regarding Reed's perspective on being gay.

Podsnap said...

Yes that's right, Ben Tillman, and Google images has this image -

http://www.beatrix.pro.br/mofo/imagens/reed_rachel.jpg

It's a poor quality photo which hides the ghastliness of the couple -

Lou is mugging it up in some sort of (words fail me - as a suburban guy it is quite out of my experience) pimp hat and wearing a leather jacket draped over one shoulder like Lana Turner. While Rachel is in the middle with a tracksuit top, zipped down to show his rather small breasts.

I half idolised Lou Reed when I was a kid but seeing that photo in (I think) a biography by Bockris cured me of that.

Jill said...

My favorite Lou Reed song from the band's 1969 album The Velvet Underground:

[Linger on Your] Pale Blue Eyes

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NcDuR9BF0Oc

panjoomby said...

reed's "heroin" is basically a 2-chord drone (I-IV). smart for him to catch on to rock n roll early - just 2 or 3 chords, then add something outrageous - & you could hit it big & never have to work for a living. (& i liked much of his music!)

ben tillman said...

I don't think Reed ever claimed to be gay.

He went much further than just claiming he was gay. He claimed that his parents tried to "cure" his homosexuality with electroshock therapy (three times a week) when he was in high school. He alluded to this in his song Kill Your Sons.

ben tillman said...

Podsnap --

Lots of pics of Lou and "Rachel" here:

http://dangerousminds.net/comments/rachel_lou_reeds_transsexual_muse

BB753 said...

Lou Reed always struck me as the same type of artist as David Bowie (parallel lives if you like). Playing on his sexual ambiguity and having the knack to surround himself with the right kind of producers and musicians who could bring his own talent to light.
Admitedly, Bowie is a far more accomplished musician and composer than Reed ever was. Just listen to "Hunky Dory".
And Reed could´t sing at all, unlike Bowie.
My favourite Lou Reed songs are Sad Song, Lady Day, and Men of Good Fortune.
As for his actual "gayness", it was much more real than Bowie´s faked one. Drugs also tend to push people to do things they´d otherwise not do.Who knows?

d said...

Lou Reed, RIP? Good riddance is more like it, now that I learn the circumstances of his death.

The twat had "life-saving surgery" a four whole months ago at the Mayo Clinic, at what cost? Who was paying for his medical costs? What if we underwrote the costs of every junkie who needed a liver transplant?

I wonder if he had AIDS. You can have AIDS and get a transplant, google it.

The more I think of it, the more I think Reed was gay gay gay, and this marriage to that dingbat was a sham contracted for financial and PR purposes.

A couple of compulsive exhibitionists who tie the knot do not a marriage make. But I'm old-fashioned.

d..... said...

Lou Reed's liver complains:

http://www.theonion.com/articles/new-liver-complains-of-difficulty-working-with-lou,32669/

And another thing: he may have been an ex-junkie but he was no ex-drunk. There were numerous sightings of Lou drunk at restaurants with his minder (Laurie) picking up the pieces afterwards.

bluto said...

Anon @2:35
It's quite hard to learn much about transplant donors (my wife worked in a transplant center and they guarded the info with vigilance I've only seen elsewhere in three letter agencies). Just exchanging sanitized letters between doner and recipient families took a year or so of effort on the part of both sides.

You could make an educated guess by learning what hospital did the transplant and then looking over a 600-800 mile radius for tragic accidents that were likely to damage the head, while leaving the torso largely intact, and received prompt medical care.

James O'Meara said...

Steve, Lou Reed "said" a lot of things. As Lester Bangs pointed out, Reed lied all the time because he took so much speed he'd run out of things to say otherwise.

ben tillman said...

Sweet Jane's a great song, but there were 5 or 6 other VU songs of comparable quality, including Sunday Morning and my favorite, All Tomorrow's Parties as sung by Nico.

Anonymous said...

re: comments about Lou Reed's life, his sexual behavior, and his perception of himself

Can you accept the simplest of explanations? 1) Some people are just crazy. 2)Drugs make the crazy even crazier.

Marc B said...

I got into VU during their 1980's revival pushed by rock critics. They were a natural fit, primarily because I could finally hear where so many bands I liked got their blueprint. I liked his album the Blue Mask, and some of his 1970's solo stuff, but he really merged the best of the old Lou with the functional modern Lou with his New York album. It was easily his most personal album.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous: "Reed and the Velvet Underground were always more popular with critics and art scene types than popular rock fans. Many people have never heard of Reed or the Velvet Underground."

True, but as Brian Eno (?) said, everyone who did hear that first album ran out and started a band.

-Unsung

Anonymous said...

Anonymous: "[early 90s alternative rock was] not sophisticated musicians.... sophisticated clean-ups and sweetening boxes in the studio."

False. I bear witness to the high-precision brutality of Helmet live. And I'm not even a metalhead, and cannot speak to Metallica, et al.

-Unsung

Anonymous said...

I'd like to hear someone more knowledgeable than I am discuss the sexual equality / sexual ambiguity of the entire VU:

Nico's a girl who sings like a guy. Mo's a girl who looks like a boy and drums like a caveman. JC & SM have long hair, and they all wear identical clothes & glasses.

Jesus they're cool.

-Unsung

Power Child said...

@Whiskey:

Indeed, the alt rock I'm referring to is largely clustered around Seattle, or at least the "Seattle Sound", though there were some acts from other cities (e.g. Smashing Pumpkins from Chicago, Helmet from New York, Filter from Cleveland) that stood out as well. The bands you mentioned sort of rode on the wave of the Seattle sound, and I wouldn't consider them typical of what I'm talking about.

There is something to be said for "songs to slit your wrists to," at least in this case where the music's suicidalism wasn't (for the most part) melodramatic and whiney, but rather intelligent, subdued, and decidedly masculine.

As for how they didn't use that music in commercials, I'd consider that a feature rather than a bug. When I worked on commercials as an editor I was always directed to choose music that emoted clearly and had obvious cultural associations, but that was also bland enough to appeal to wide swaths of people. (In other words, music that was as unsophisticated as possible.) Thank God early 90s alt rock wasn't like that. Most of the music I hear in commercials is so bad it makes my skin crawl.

@nooffensebut:

Nevermind was actually one album where the members of Nirvana spelled their names normally. It was on other albums like the obscure debut Bleach and the B-sides compilation Inscesticide where you get the Kurdt Kobains and the Chris Novoselics.

Anyway, a lot of the other Seattle bands disliked or were indifferent to what Nirvana was doing. Nirvana was arguably the least like the other "grunge" bands, because Nirvana's main influence was punk, while the other ones gravitated more closely to metal and experimental sounds.

In terms of personnel, the Seattle scene was pretty incestuous nonetheless. I once charted exactly how incestuous it was, and I'm sure I still missed some of it.

Dahlia said...

I'm only familiar with a few of VU's songs and I like them very much.

Here She Comes Now. It's actually a bit danceable for an "Indie" song.

Jesus. It's the sweetest little song.

I think it's a bit unfair to box them completely into the "cerebral" box, but yeah, sure, they mostly are and they probably would have reached a much wider audience in the early 90s. Personally, I didn't care much for the early 90s as it was too whiny whereas I loved the more "Indie" songs of the 60s which were far more fun and uplifting.

Evil Sandmich said...

The headline would have better read: "Lou Reed, who everyone thought was dead, but was actually still alive, is now dead".

Reed and the Velvet Underground were always more popular with critics and art scene types than popular rock fans.

The other accusation was that Reed was a much better songwriter than a performer

Anonymous said...

Lou Reed, the Woody Allen of pop music.

I would hazard a guess that being smacked out would make his dirges sound better.

Anonymous said...

Though he's known mainly for his persona, the guy wrote a lot of really good songs. Of the triumvirate of Jewish talk-singer poets - Bob Dylan, Lou Reed and Leonard Cohen - Reed is easily the most fun.

Anonymous said...

Self-esteem is probably the most healthy thing for a person and having other people show some approval of what you are doing is probably the surest path to self-esteem. If celebrities do in fact live longer that would be probably be the best explanation. ..................Side note concerning VU: drummer Mo Tucker lived an unusual post-rock and roll live. I think she worked at Wal-Mart for a while and she also recently pissed off a lot of the liberal/artsy crowd by being an outspoken Tea Party supporter.

vinteuil said...

People get so attached to this or that minor balladeer, heard during their impressionable & irrecoverable youth.

Well, as Noel Coward observed: it's "strange how potent cheap music is."

Still, there comes a time, for all of us, to set aside childish things.

ben tillman said...

Admitedly, Bowie is a far more accomplished musician and composer than Reed ever was. Just listen to "Hunky Dory".
And Reed could´t sing at all, unlike Bowie.


But it's embarrassing to hear Bowie cover Waiting for the Man and screw up the lyrics. "Hey White Boy, whatcha doing up town ... you chasing ALL THE women around?" No, David, it's "OUR" women.

TGGP said...

I think I first heard of the Velvet Underground when browsing through "Please Kill Me". Sometime later I saw "Sweet Jane" on some list of the best guitar solos and decided to check it out, not realizing that it was the live post-Velvet version they were referring to. I was completely disappointed, thinking "This is proto-punk?!" Of course I listened to "Sister Ray" later and it found a permanent place alongside "TV Eye" on mixed CD of abrasive music.

I dug "Helmet" (though not as much as the grunge coming from the other coast at the time) and also liked the song "Mute Massaker" by Caspar Brotzmann, so I was psyched when I read Brotzmann & Hamilton had collaborated on "Zulutime". The samples I heard made me feel like an old man. "What is this noise? Why don't they make music?" So I guess that's how cool I'm not.

JeremiahJohnbalaya said...

I'll give some nod to 90's (alt) roc, and Helmet in particular. Top 10 favorite band and best concert I've ever been too. And the opening band was some unknown band called The Regurgitators who were fun as heck.

The only simple tune I can think of that's more fun to play on a guitar than Sweet Jane might be Dear Prudence (but Jerry-style, since I hate hate hate the Beatles).

Matra said...

How can you tell? Easy Hollywood used and uses those musicians in movies and commercials constantly. Heck I'll say Starship was on the whole Superior to Jefferson Airplane. Rolling Stone hates that song but We Built This City is a great pop tune.

... Name me an advertiser using Nirvana. Allstate uses Human League.


I guess that proves it then!

Speaking of commercials I've heard Reed's Perfect Day more in the last week or two than at any other time in my life because of that Playstation commercial that's on permanent rotation for just about every sports broadcast.

Sweet Jane's a great song, but there were 5 or 6 other VU songs of comparable quality, including Sunday Morning and my favorite, All Tomorrow's Parties as sung by Nico.

Agreed. The VU & Nico album is in the top ten of all time. Satellite of Love and quite a few other solo songs, including some from the 80s, are better than Walk on the Wild Side.

Also, he had a great track "Good Evening Mr. Waldheim" on "New York" which lambasted Jesse Jackson.

It's been over 20 years since I heard the song but IIRC the lyrics suggest that Reed was a pro-Israel Jesse Jackson supporter who was upset that the latter wasn't condemning Farrakhan and Arafat.

Anonymous said...

Elvis to Eminem: quantifying the price of fame through early mortality of European and North American rock and pop stars

http://jech.bmj.com/content/61/10/896.full

Anonymous said...


Heroin is his best.

I don't know just where I'm going
But I'm gonna try for the kingdom, if I can
'Cause it makes me feel like I'm a man
When I put a spike into my vein

And I'll tell ya, things aren't quite the same
When I'm rushing on my run
And I feel just like Jesus' son
And I guess that I just don't know
And I guess that I just don't know

I have made the big decision, I'm gonna try to nullify my life
'Cause when the blood begins to flow
When it shoots up the dropper's neck
When I'm closing in on death

And you can't help me, not you guys
And all you sweet girls with all your sweet silly talk
You can all go take a walk
And I guess that I just don't know
And I guess that I just don't know

I wish that I was born a thousand years ago
I wish that I'd sail the darkened seas
On a great big clipper ship
Going from this land here to that on a sailor's suit and cap

Away from the big city where a man cannot be free
Of all of the evils of this town
And of himself, and those around
Oh, and I guess that I just don't know
Oh, and I guess that I just don't know

Heroin, be the death of me
Heroin, it's my wife and it's my life
Because a Mainer to my vein
Leads to a center in my head
And then I'm better off than dead

Because when the smack begins to flow
I really don't care anymore
About all the Jim-Jim's in this town
And all the politicians makin' busy sounds
And everybody puttin' everybody else down
And all the dead bodies piled up in mounds

'Cause when the smack begins to flow
Then I really don't care anymore
When the heroin is in my blood
And that blood is in my head

Then thank God that I'm as good as dead
Then thank your God that I'm not aware
And thank God that I just don't care
And I guess, I just don't know
And I guess, I just don't know

Songwriters
Reed, Lou / Lang, David


Anonymous said...

The intertubes seem to a breeding ground for certain types:

Gays, SF fans, Fans of "The Wire", Nerds, Atheists, Libertarians, Randians, and now..

Old English Lit Rock Singers.

I'll let iSteve explain why.

peterike said...

Feh on Soundgarden, Faith No More, etc. The best 90s alt-rock band was Sleater-Kinney, and that was three chicks.

ben tillman said...


Heroin is his best.

No doubt it's at or near the top of the list. The music very effectively reinforces the changes in mood suggested by the lyrics.

Anonymous said...

He claimed that his parents tried to "cure" his homosexuality with electroshock therapy (three times a week) when he was in high school.

They deny this and say it was applied to treat other psychological issues. That make sense, since electroshock was a treatment for some forms of depression, but I've never heard of it used as therapy for homosexuality, and anyway Reed was a drama queen.

Anonymous said...

His songs are morbid and decadent. While every culture needs to explore its shadow side, in our era nostalgie de boue has assumed proportions that are truly not viable.

Cennbeorc

BB753 said...

For those longing for unusual time signatures and chord progresssions ("Odd time signatures and rhythmic subdivisions, unorthodox song structures, cryptic and abstract lyrics, rapid or abrupt key changes, unusual instrumentation, obscure harmonies and modes", look no further than Genesis´1972 album Foxtrot.
Tony Banks is a hell of a musician.

pat said...

I don't get the point of your comments. 71 is not much of an age to attain these days. It is less than average.

If this guy - whoever he was - had died at 91 there might be a story here. But 71?

BTW what did this person do? I take it he was famous in pop music? Was he a drummer or a singer? Or what? I ask because a few years ago symphony conductors were said to live longer because waving there hands around was supposed to be good for the heart. Perhaps rock star longevity varies by position.

Albertosaurus

Power Child said...

Huh. Cool to know so many iSteve readers are Helmet fans.

breathnach said...

Lou's "Street Hassle" , which came out in 1978, was up there with some of his VU work. His un-sentimenatlized look at street vermin was his mainstay. Unfortunately he strayed from his forte with facile PC preachiness on albums like "New York". However, "Romeo had Juliette" from that album is excellent. I'll never forget Lou's 1979 show at Boston's Paradise Theater in 1979.

Power Child said...

@BB753:

Genesis's Foxtrot helps make my point: that album never even made the charts in the US, not surprising since it was pretty much confined to the prog rock/art rock sub-genres. One of the tracks is 23 minutes long--it would NEVER be played on the radio. (Don't get me wrong, I love Genesis.) Plus, look at the music that was popular in 1971: mostly very unsophisticated.

The thing about early 90s alt rock that I was pointing out wasn't just that the music was sophisticated, it was also catchy and popular. This combination of sophistication and popularity--of a whole music scene, not just a few bands--is what I'm saying was mostly unheard of before or since.

Anonymous said...

About ten years ago I ran into Lou Reed in the men's room at the Quad Theater on 13th Street. When I said that I was a huge fan, he smiled and asked me if I'd give him a blow job. I just laughed because I thought he was joking. I'm basically straight, but if I had known he was serious, I probably would have done it.

Rest in peace, you beautiful, talented soul.

Mr. Anon said...

"Whiskey said...

Nirvana, Pearl Jam etc are songs to slit your wrists to, Black Hole Sun? Name me an advertiser using Nirvana. Allstate uses Human League."

I'm not a big fan of grunge, myself. However, I think I did once see a commercial that used "Black Hole Sun". It was pretty odd.

Steve Sailer said...

Is "Black Hole Sun" some kind of musical inversion of George Harrison's "Here Comes the Sun"?

Power Child said...

Good question, Steve.

Soundgarden's frontman Chris Cornell was/is a huge Beatles fan. I wouldn't be surprised if there was some Harrison influence in "Black Hole Sun." Of the four Beatles, Harrison's songwriting seems most likely to have influenced Cornell's, particularly given Harrison's interest in traditional Indian music.

Lyrically, "Black Hole Sun" is mostly just verbal acrobatics for its own sake, but sonically the band recognized and was encouraged by its similarity to the Beatles' sound.

Says so right here in Wikipedia.

JeremiahJohnbalaya said...

Cool to know so many iSteve readers are Helmet fans.

I do my best work (writing code) to either Helmet or a few famous classical pieces.

This talk of Soundgarden reminds me that I watched a 20 year retrospective on Pearl Jam the other day. It was mostly focused on Eddie Vedder, of course. Had quite a few clips of Chris Cornel talking about them. It also included some absolutely ridiculous footage of Vedder climbing into the supports over the stage. There's a music video of him doing a little bit of that, but they were showing him swinging around like a monkey 40-50 feet above the stage. The dude is very very very luck to be alive

Power Child said...

@JeremiahJohnbalaya

Interesting about Helmet and writing code. Something about Helmet's music has always reminded me of engineering and other techy stuff like that.

Maybe because Page Hamilton basically looks like an engineer or IT guy. When Beavis and Butthead comment on the video for "Unsung," Beavis says the drummer looks "like a regular guy," and Butthead agrees: "If you saw these guys walking down the street, you wouldn't even know that they're cool." (Mike Judge, by the way: former software engineer.)

(Can you imagine Chris Cornell even using a computer? I mean, obviously he does, but he must look out of place while doing so.)

But no, I think there's something about that disciplined, rhythmic, masculine, subtly complex sound of Helmet's that jibes well with the work done by meticulous, logical, high-IQ straight white guys.

Eddie Vedder seems to have always been kind of an adrenaline junkie. Shortly after moving from Illinois to San Diego he took up surfing. The song "There He Goes" from Pearl Jam's underrated album No Code is Vedder sort of addressing himself, worrying about his risk-prone behavior.

Sam said...

Something struck me that I've never noticed before. That ching ching ching in the background is about the same tempo of the sound of a Las Vegas casino.

Anonymous said...

"Soundgarden's frontman Chris Cornell was/is a huge Beatles fan. I wouldn't be surprised if there was some Harrison influence in "Black Hole Sun." Of the four Beatles, Harrison's songwriting seems most likely to have influenced Cornell's, particularly given Harrison's interest in traditional Indian music."

The fact that lead guitarist Kim Thayil was Indian may also have had something to do with that influence.

Power Child said...

The fact that lead guitarist Kim Thayil was Indian may also have had something to do with that influence.

I thought about that possibility, but it seems unlikely. The Soundgarden songs written by Thayil ("Room A Thousand Years Wide," "Kickstand," "Never the Machine Forever," etc.) sound distinctly less Indian than many of the ones written by Cornell (e.g. "Searching With My Good Eye Closed," "Mind Riot," "Mailman," "Like Suicide"). "Flower," "Hands All Over," and "A Thousand Days Before" are the only obvious exceptions I can think of.