I guess I have to say something about Lou Reed who died today, apparently from complications of a liver transplant earlier this year. I used to be a huge Lou Reed and Velvet Underground fan. Frankly, the Velvet Underground holds up a whole lot better. Whenever I listen to his solo work, there is something wrong. And I’m afraid that something is Reed himself.
I continue to have this experience of going back to solo albums that I have loved. Both Berlin and The Blue Mask are great albums. But I so wish that someone else were singing and (on the latter) playing guitar. Something happened. Compare his performance of “Sweet Jane” on Loaded to that on Rock ‘n’ Roll Animal. In 1970, he seemed to care about giving a good performance while being well aware of his weak voice. In 1974, he seemed to relish his great big “Fuck you!” to the audience. In fact, I read one obituary on my phone that seemed to think that Reed was great for that reason—as though Metal Machine Music was the greatest thing he’d ever done. (I love Lester Bangs, but he was wrong about it.)
The truth is that Reed was capable of creating great art. He did it from time to time, which is a hell of lot more than what most of us accomplish. He left us with a number of classic songs: “I’m Waiting for My Man,” “Pale Blue Eyes,” “Rock & Roll,” “Coney Island Baby,” and I could go on quite a while. So there’s no doubt that his death is an important event. It does annoy me, however, to read people talking about him who don’t seem to know (or frankly care) that much about him even while they sing his praises.
If you want to get my thoughts on Lou Reed the man, you can read my birthday post from 2 March, celebrating his 71st and last birthday. For now, I will just say that death is not a bad thing. It is the absence of pain and certainly nothing to regret after having a life that was worth living.