john cale and lou reed
We'll have no more musical inventions by rocker Lou Reed. He has left us so much to listen to, so much that is fresh and new every time, his body of work extensive. To celebrate Lou, I went to cds and picked up a 3-cd set called The Quine Tapes, cassette tapes recorded in three different cities in 1969 by Bob Quine. I think they were released in a box set of three in 2001. On facebook appeared a question to name your favorite Lou Reed song. That one just stopped my mind. I couldn't think of anything. So many titles it makes a log jam to try to think of them all at once. Even reading a list of his songs I couldn't pick one and say this one above all others. I've been listening to Velvet Underground since the album with the banana peel by Andy Warhol. I wasn't ready for them first time I heard the album. It was a period of time when the Rolling Stones were filling football stadiums all over the world, the Allman Brothers with Duane Allman, Eric Clapton with Cream, and the two got together as Derek and the Dominoes. I was into Blind Faith, Cream + Steve Winwood. This was the direction my rock n roll ear was going at the time. Then I hear I'm Waiting For The Man, Heroin, Black Angel Death Song, European Son, a sound my ear wasn't used to listening to. Didn't play it much, but each time I heard it, it became a bit more interesting. Then I discovered Lou Reed and John Cale as musicians and it was on.
john cale, lou reed, sterling morrison, mo tucker
I think of Lou Reed an American poet who gives poetry readings as rock concerts. It's the same for me with Bob Dylan and Steve Earle. It was hopeless to have a chance to see Lou Reed give a concert outside New York. They were a particularly New York band, the art world part of New York that does not translate well to the rest of the country. The Velvet Underground sound seemed to my ear to turn its back to the flower child phenomenon, taking on a rough edge instead of the guitar solo smooth edge. They seemed to reach back into the Fifties sound that the rest of the bands were leaving. The psychedelia bands drew their inspiration from Chuck Berry, Little Richard, Jerry Lee, while the Velvets drew their inspiration from Bo Diddley and Buddy Holly. I'm speaking only from my own ear. I've never read any books about the history of rock & roll. I don't even look at Rolling Stone. The few times I've looked at a Rolling Stone it seems like an oxymoron to intellectualize rock. I don't want to read anything intellectualizing the Murderdolls or Mazzy Star. Rock is what it is. That is all it is. It has never seemed right to me to write about rock. I see book after book on the subject, even picked up a history of rock years ago and never opened it. I looked at the pictures. Not much can be said about rock. At this very moment am hearing the Velvets playing an eleven minute version of Ride Into The Sun. Dazzlingly beautiful. Now is starting a 28 minute Sister Ray / Foggy Notion. Thank you, Lou Reed.
I can't even think about evaluating Lou Reed critically. I can only write of my own experience with his music over way more than half my life ago. My own Lou Reed experience is that every time I hear anything he made, from Velvets to his last as Lou Reed, I appreciate it more than before. It has been stair-step up the appreciation scale all the years I've listened to his music. Especially now that I've been listening to acoustic music played by masters of their instruments for so many years. Hearing Lou assault his electric guitar strings wringing out Sister Ray. Sterling Morrison is playing rhythm and lead with Lou, Doug Yule is playing bass and Mo Tucker beating the drums. These are people whose musicianship I appreciate more as what my ear can hear expands over years of listening to music. I've never liked boring music. Lou Reed's music is never boring. He doesn't like boring music either. His band was something of a war on boring music. Years of hearing African urban dance hall music from all over the continent, old-time fiddle and banjo music, bluegrass, country, and punk threading through all of it. I need to have my punk moment from time to time, put on Nina Hagen, Jim Carroll Band, The Damned, Hole, L7, Rage Against The Machine. When I want to rock, I want to rock. At this moment I'm asking myself why I don't listen to more. I'm enjoying this madly. I like the sharp assault they hit the strings with. I'm turning the volume up and up as it goes along. I like Lou's verbal assaults. He doesn't scream. He hits with words. He does his screaming through his guitar.
He published a book of his songs without the music, Between Thought And Expression: Selected Lyrics of Lou Reed. It makes a good book of poetry. When it comes to poetry written by rock stars, it is out there in a league of its own. Lou Reed rates a place among contemporary American poets. He has influenced many an American poet of his generation and younger. Bob Dylan is another one whose lyrics make good reading independent of the music. Both Reed and Dylan tend to talk their songs more than sing them. In the time Lou Reed was making new albums, each one was a work of art. It wasn't just a bunch of songs thrown together to make an album. It was, but he was reaching for art in his writing and in his music. He caught it. I don't hesitate to call Lou Reed an artist in the same meaning I'd use for Larry Rivers and Jasper Johns. When psychedelia faded into Bon Jovi, a wave of punk hit the world's big cities. It seemed like it happened all at once. The Sixties bands that featured virtuoso guitar solos could not be topped by the next generation. Punk happened and you didn't have to know how to play a guitar. Sid Vicious never learned. He was so bad the Sex Pistols only used him on stage for the outrageous audience appeal. They had another bassist for recording. Paul Simenon of the Clash didn't know how to play a bass when they started the band. He was a friend the others wanted in the band. Punk was all-out whatever noise you could make. A revolution. The Velvet Underground was the band from the Sixties whose influence went on into the next generation of rock. Lou Reed lived long enough to see himself become a legend. Though he probably never reached his own ideal, he could certainly look back over his lifetime and see that he made a difference.