In Boozo Veritas #13 by Teege Braune
Remembering Lou Reed
I was planning on writing an article on horror, Halloween, the supernatural, or some other seasonally appropriate subject, but had put off the endeavor until the last minute because I couldn’t think of a cohesive thesis. Then something horrible happened. Rock legend Lou Reed died. Never has the death of a musician, artist, or celebrity hit me as hard as the passing of Reed. I’m shocked that the loss of a man I never knew, never spoke to, never even saw in person can leave me so heart broken. In the next few months, many more qualified people will tell you about Reed’s legacy, his cultural import, and his monumental influence on the face of rock ‘n roll. I don’t claim to be a music critic and will leave all that to the experts. I just want to share with you what Lou Reed meant to me.
As soon as I became aware of the Velvet Underground, I was fascinated by Reed’s ultra-cool signature scowl. Having only heard the song “White Light/White Heat,” I included a picture of the band in a collage of things that were important to me for a middle school art assignment. I was obsessed with 1960s culture, but didn’t quite get the distinction between Warhol’s Silver Factory art movement, San Francisco hippy culture, and English psychedelia. Nevertheless, I noticed an obvious gap between The Velvet Underground and the other bands I loved. Lou Reed’s sound and persona didn’t fit in alongside the peace/love generation. There was a violence to the Velvet Underground’s lyrics and dissonance that felt far more dangerous.
My freshman year of college I met Nat Evans who has remained one of my best friends to this day. At nineteen, long before the invention of iTunes, Nat had the biggest and most diverse music collection of anyone I’d ever known. With a pair of wraparound sunglasses on, he also looks like he could be Reed’s long lost son. Our friendship was initiated by a mutual love of Zen haiku, Miles Davis, Philip Glass, and other things that no one else at our midwestern liberal arts college seemed to appreciate, but sometimes Nat would scowl at me, shocked by the cultural elements of which I was clueless.
“You’ve never heard the song ‘Heroin?’” he asked me one day hanging around in our dorm.
It had come up because I was reading Dennis Johnson’s Jesus Son for freshman creative writing, and Nat was stunned and appalled that I didn’t get the reference. After all, I was a fan of David Bowie and Iggy Pop. How could my knowledge of Lou Reed be so limited? He put a pair of earphones on my head and popped Velvet Underground & Nico in the CD player. I listened to the song on repeat for almost an hour as I smoked cigarettes and flicked the butts out of my third floor window. For the rest of the semester I didn’t go more than a day without listening to Velvet Underground & Nico. It was the only album I listened to while writing term papers, playing it on repeat as the sun came up and I typed out the work I had inevitably put off to the last possible minute.
From there I asked my parents to get me the Velvet Underground box set for Christmas and played every album that came with it until I knew them forwards and backwards. Then I got Transformer and played the hell out of that. Then Coney Island Baby. Then every time some girl broke my heart, I played “Street Hassle” over and over again until I finally felt better. Ecstasy came out between our Freshman and Sophomore years, and it was amazing to hear an artist so iconic to a bygone era continue to record new music that was exciting and relevant. Over ten years later and despite a liver transplant earlier this year, Reed, in his seventies, remained an influential figure in art and music and was even scheduled to participate in a discussion of Edgar Allan Poe in November. Tickets were sold out at the time of his death.
Instead of completing the chores and errands we had planned for the day, Jenn and I sat around our apartment dusting off and replaying our old Velvet Underground albums and mourning the loss of a cultural icon that meant so much to both of us. I still can’t hear the song “Heroin” without thinking of Nat, so I texted my old friend to see if he had heard the sad news. An incredibly talented and accomplished composer in his own right, I think Nat took Reed’s passing even harder than I did. As a musician, perhaps Nat could say better than I how Reed has specifically influenced his own work. For me, Lou Reed’s music taught me that things don’t have to be pretty to be beautiful, that the most interesting work, what we can truly call sublime, lies in the synthesis of beauty and dissonance. His music was my first foray into the avant-garde. Through it, I learned to embrace the weird, the uncanny. He left us an oeuvre so rich that we will never exhaust its mysteries. I wasn’t ready to say goodbye to Lou Reed, but I remain eager and excited to rediscover him.
Teege Braune is a writer of literary fiction, horror, essays, and poetry. Recently he has discovered the joys of drinking responsibly. He may or may not be a werewolf.
Leave a Reply