Monday, October 28, 2013

R.I.P. Lou Reed

I mentioned it when J.J. Cale passed away, and now another member of my Sacred Five songwriters has died, Lou Reed. Of all of them (Eddie Vedder, Tom Waits and Renaud are the other three), Reed's vocal delivery and guitar playing (though not his ''ostrich'' - i.e. all-the-same-notes - tuning) was the one I ended up closest to resembling, albeit not on purpose.

Rolling Stone described his singing style thusly in 1971:
Reed's voice hasn't changed much since the early days. Outrageously unmusical, it combines the sass of (Mick) Jagger and the mockery of early (Bob) Dylan, but is lower-pitched than either. It is a voice so incapable of bullshit that it makes even an artsy arrangement work by turning the whole thing into a joyous travesty. Just as arresting as Reed's voice are his lyrics, which combine a New York street punk sensibility and rock song cliches with a powerful poetic gift.
As the tributes rolled in yesterday, you could see that his influence as a figurehead of all things New York- and arts-related still stood unscathed (everyone from Salman Rushdie to Samuel L. Jackson to Iggy Pop to Ricky Gervais had something to say); he was not only as unseparable from New York as Martin Scorsese, Woody Allen and Spike Lee, he was the city's underbelly, its history of upheaval, fights for gender equality (he even dated a transgendered lady in the 70s), its rampant drug scene.

He died of liver failure, 6 months after a transplant. It wasn't from eating too much citrus.

During his career, many critics noted that he had a tendency to forgo complicated musical arrangements and lyrics, instead opting for a more direct, succinct approach; still, his long list of musical collaborators over the years would leave a jazz and prog-rock fan a mouth-watering sensation: Jack Bruce (Cream), Aynsley Dunbar (Frank Zappa, Journey), Steve Winwood (Traffic, Blind Faith), Steve Howe (Yes, Asia), Rick Wakeman (Yes), Caleb Quaye (Elton John), Steve Hunter (Alice Cooper), Bob Kulick (KISS, Meat Loaf), and jazz great Don Cherry. Among others.

Some of his collaborations were ill-advised, particularly of late (yes, I'm thinking of the double-album from hell with Metallica, but he also could have done 2003's The Raven without bringing David Bowie back into his list of friends). But mostly, he'll be remembered for great songs about 'unclean' subject matter: drugs (Heroin, Waiting for My Man), sadomasochism (Venus in Furs), prostitution (There She Goes Again), the death of a parent (Standing On Ceremony), AIDS (The Halloween Parade), some favourite movies and plays (Doin' the Things That We Want To), racism (I Want to be Black), the electroshock therapy he received as a teen (Kill Your Sons), as well as transvestites and transgenders (Walk on The Wild Side).

But he could also write the perfect ballad, as can be attested by such gems as Pale Blue Eyes and Perfect Day. And while his early solo albums Transformer and Berlin stood as hard acts to follow and are no doubt considered his ''classics'' (especially after the post-dissolution praise for his work with The Velvet Underground), I'm still very fond of some of his later works, notably 1996's Set The Twilight Reeling (whose jewel case came in various colours, mine is purple) and 2000's Ecstasy.

I'll have never seen him perform live.

No comments: