“The news I feared the most, pales in comparision to the lump in my throat and the hollow in my stomach, Two kids have a chance meeting and 47 years later we fight and love the same way – losing either one is incomprehensible. No replacement value, no digital or virtual fill … broken now, for all time. Unlike so many with similar stories – we have the best of our fury laid out on vinyl, for the world to catch a glimpse. The laughs we shared just a few weeks ago, will forever remind me of all that was good between us.” – John Cale
I don’t remember what year it was, but I remember being in the backseat of my dad’s orange Capri. I was quite little, so it must have been 1980 or so. We were heading out of the city on our way to our almost monthly sojourns to visit friends in Detroit. My mom was up front changing AM radio channels after the news while my dad drove. It must have been winter because I had this big grey puffy jacket on and my favourite winter boots which were scuffed up Cougars. Anyways, we were driving along and as we hit the highway, Lou Reed’s “Walk On The Wild Side” came on. I had never heard a bass line like that before; behind it a slow shuffle of a drum & guitar played on: they were like a train that had found its rhythm. Then Reed’s voice came up and said:
“Holly came from Miami, F.L.A.
Hitch-hiked her way across the U.S.A.
Plucked her eyebrows on the way
Shaved her legs and then he was a she
She says, “Hey babe, take a walk on the wild side”
He said, “Hey honey, take a walk on the wild side”” – Walk On The Wild Side, Reed
Now I don’t know if I distinctly heard the words that way (because memory is such a capricious mess), I just remember the image of a woman plucking her eyebrows and shaving her legs, and being shocked at the reveal that she was once a he. Me, being who I was, just let it hit in my head and kept quiet about it as I tried to process this information. I think must have been around the year that I had asked my mom what sex was, so after the long rambling speech she gave me (she was the best, truly love that lady), I didn’t want to go through the huge embarrassment of asking what the singer of the song meant when he said she was once a he.
In my seat, I thought, “He could be she? She was once a he? Can you do that? Can I just decide to be something else? I really don’t know what I am. I’m a girl. I like dresses! But suits pretty cool. Why don’t I get to wear a suit? I love my pants! I love my boots! Does that make me a he? Is that bad?”
That’s as much as I can surmise of what went through my head after that. Of course, it was just a flash and afterwards lost myself to the song because of that infectious slow bass. It felt like a sad song, but a happy-sad song. It was sunny outside as the car drove on and the colored girls sang, “doot de doot.” It felt good. Thinking back, my parents were in their 20s then, so in many ways, all three of us were taking walks on the wild side.
Reed and the Velvet Underground have a special place in my record collection, not because of the music, but the poetry. It was with great sadness received that I saw a tweet come up on my feed announcing Reed’s death. Lou Reed, in my head, was first and foremost, a poet. I didn’t think of the guitar he played or the bands he influenced. Reed, in my mind, inhabits the immortal souls of poetry. You think of your musical heroes one day passing, no? Poets? Never. Poets live through words; that’s the stuff of legend, man. They’re like the gods of Atlantis that you hear stories of and read literature about. Poets write their own lives onto material pages which we as readers explore and live vicariously through.
While I had The Clash, The Sex Pistols, Stiff Little Fingers, and all the punk and their goth alternatives on replay on my little stereo, like Patti Smith, Lou Reed ‘s words weren’t music to me: they were literature put to music and it was incredible. It is incredible.
I keep going to Reed’s album Transformer since it was the first of his solo albums that I bought because of Walk On The Side. Listening to that whole album and stopping to ponder the words, it’s all very sad and uplifting. I played Perfect Day on a loop the day I broke up with my boyfriend D. It’s just a summer’s day, I’m so glad I spent those five years with you (we’re very good friends now, but broken hearts are what they are: they feel like a lifetime culmination of hurt and despair balled up and tossed around until it becomes a scar you occasionally have to lick). With David Bowie and Mick Ronson on production with that beat poet drawl, Reed was a diamond in the rut, the chaos, that blurs the line between poetry and lyric.
I just kept collecting (even Metal Machine Music…noise poetry, baby), up to The Blue Mask (such a gutsy raw album). I think I lost touch with him afterwards in my own timeline. But all those albums reside in my stacks to be replayed when the mood hits and for the past three years, the mood has hit continuously. I’ve written more than I ever have and Reed has always been very inspirational background foilage to me, his words are an unspoken necessity. They hold up while keeping you company while your down. They listen, sing, but they don’t condemn; they join in the beauty of the depressive muck.
Poets and writers quote Reed like they quote Yeats. It’s an amazing thing really to think of it, and some of his most underrated stuff was the hardware of broken hearted genius. I have a deep aching love for Street Hassle:
(Here’s a good analysis of it by poet, critic, and musician Adam Fieled: http://www.argotistonline.co.uk/Fieled%20essay%203.htm)
Poets aren’t supposed to die. Hell, we’re not even supposed to be living with them, but we do. They’re everywhere like an infestation. And think this is why in a year where death kind of hits me hard, that Reed’s passing came as a shock because it came out of nowhere. Heck, MCA’s death last year was pretty bad too. However, I didn’t know MCA, nor did I know Lou Reed. All I knew of them were in their words and the actions portrayed in the media. I learned a lot about Reed through interviews because I wanted to know more about what made the words and how he transformed that mellodious ick into art. So in a sense, I have affinity for the older Reed, like that crazy relative that you find stories about, even though they’re still kicking around. I still harboured this far-fetched scary idea that in my career as an interviewer, that I’d get a chance to talk to Lou Reed and he’d be the most difficult interview ever. I have questions, but did I really want them answered? That was just a dream and I guess that as such, it remains one forever, within the sheets of poetry.
These are just my short ramblings of how grateful I am to know Lou Reed through music and most of all, through his words. In the grand scheme of things I’ve got going right now can’t really parse how I feelings about these little things right now, but I thought I’d stop and acknowledge. Our punk poet is immortal now and as a poet, I take his words to heart:
“You got to live, yeah, your life
as though you’re number one
Yeah, you got to live, yeah, your life
and make a point of having some fun
But if you think
that you get kicks from flirting with danger
just kick her in head and rearrange her” – Wagon Wheel, Reed.
Hey man, thanks.