Like anyone with a rock and roll heart, I was both saddened and shocked by the death of Lou Reed on October 27th, 2013. When a legend checks out, the universe weeps for the loss but the legacy of a great artist always remains. Itʼs in the breeze, on the airwaves, enshrined in vinyl, woven into the fabric of those who cherish.

 

Hailing from the generation who sought salvation in rock music, the character of 'Jenny' in Reedʼs superlative number "Rock ʽnʼ Roll" had a particularly personal resonance -  ʽOne fine morning, she put on a New York station and she couldnʼt believe what she heard at all. She started dancing to that fine, fine music ahh, her life was saved by rock ʽnʼ roll.ʼ Amen.

 

Reed sang out for and captured the lives of outsiders, the aesthetically disenfranchised. One of societyʼs great dissidents, Lou broadcast beautifully crafted street missives from a dazzling if sometimes bleak anti-world. In a moving elegy, Reedʼs wife, Laurie Anderson commented:

"Lou was a prince and a fighter and I know his songs of the pain and beauty in the world will fill many people with the incredible joy he felt for life. Long live the beauty that comes down and through and onto all of us."

The starting point was The Velvet Underground & Nico. Released in 1967, The Velvetʼs debut was a dislocated rhythmic melee that chronicled hitherto taboo subjects in pop music including heroin and S&M. Lifeʼs seamier side was already a growing tradition in literature from Nelson Algren to William S. Burroughs but Lou Reed fearlessly crossed the territories between page and performance, dedicating ʽEuropean Sonʼ, the last track on the VUʼs inaugural platter to his former Syracuse University tutor, the poet Delmore Schwartz. From his work with the Velvet Underground to his solo output and numerous creative reincarnations, Louʼs lyricism maintained an astute minimalistic grace.

 

In a 1987 Rolling Stone interview, Reed compared his albums to chapters which when stacked together, comprised My great American Novel. I canʼt pretend to have read all the chapters in so prolific a career but his influence remains an indelible one.  Of Edgar Allen Poe, to whom he paid tribute on 2003ʼs The Raven Reed noted in typically understated fashion ʽEdgar Allan Poe /Not exactly the boy next door.ʼ

 

And neither was Lou.

One chord is fine. Two chords are pushing it. Three chords and you're into jazz." — Lou Reed