Walk on the ground: 500 words on Lou Reed


Every generation has its own time of rediscovering Lou Reed’s music. Velvet Underground is a band which suddenly breaks out in your adolescence, and changes the order of things forever. At a certain age a young man turns to that formidable, dangerous, rough side of pop music, and most likely it happens through the sound of the Doors and VU. But if Jim Morrison left a huge Rimbaud-sized ghost of himself, which will dazzle lost souls forevermore, Lou Reed was just playing songs: bar-talk lyrics, simple chords, sometimes noise. The kind of songs every young man wants to play.

His words, his music, and his image – Reed embodied the whole idea of rock’n’roll music. Rock music is about being outside (whether society or art), being white trash, being dangerous, uncomfortable in your own skin, but having no doubt that this skin is yours. Reed’s music was all about it. His rough, sandpapery voice was the perfect medium for translating tales of New York City. Along with Chuck Berry, Bob Dylan, and early Jagger, Reed developed an iconic style of rock’n’roll storytelling. He was a fine contemporary poet, a poet of the street. He sang the way we talk, and played guitar the way that made everyone think he could do the same. The thing is, no one could do it his way. But the other thing is that many have tried, and created a lot of different, inspiring music.


As Lou himself wrote last summer reviewing Kanye West’s “Yeezus” (he was really into all current pop revolutions), “I have never thought of music as a challenge — you always figure, the audience is at least as smart as you are.  You do this because you like it, you think what you’re making is beautiful.  And if you think it’s beautiful, maybe they’ll think it’s beautiful.  When I did Metal Machine Music, New York Times critic John Rockwell said, “This is really challenging.”  I never thought of it like that.  I thought of it like, “Wow, if you like guitars, this is pure guitar, from beginning to end, in all its variations.  And you’re not stuck to one beat.”

Lou Reed will remain absolutely outstanding figure. He didn’t provide a teenage cult. Unlike Morrison, his persona is difficult to assume – you wouldn’t really desire to be a person you think Lou Reed was to be. It’s not that “always-be-drunk-rebellious-cursed-poet” kind of thing. Lou Reed always stayed a man, a musician, not a myth, really. He was very earthly, he walked the ground, he talked about drug-dealers and drag-queens, he wasn’t meant to die in Paris. In fact, he passed away being an old family man and a truly great artist, who didn’t give up on drinking and writing, anyway. Unlike many poets he found his home, but his was a home of the brave.


Xenia Zimmerman


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