Lou Reed (1942 – 2013): Remembered

Lou Reed (1942 – 2013): Remembered

"I heard the news today, oh boy," John Lennon sung on The Beatles’ 'A Day in the Life'. It was my first thought this morning when I heard the news of Lou Reed's death. Lennon had an understanding in his voice, and an ability to comfort that very few artists have. Lou Reed was one of the few that had that ability, too.

Have you ever been woken up with the news that your hero has died? Lennon probably had; he'd been making music for long enough at that time. 'A Day in the Life' was even inspired by the death of his and Paul's close friend Tara Browne. Reed definitely had - just listen to his and John Cale's album for Andy Warhol, Songs for Drella, or his 1989 album, New York, and you'll hear it in his voice. What struck me the most was that the man who sung 'Halloween Parade', one of those rare, enveloping piece of music, had died just days before Halloween.

I felt guilty that my second thought was 'What will I write about this?', but that's creative effect that Reed's music has always had on me since I first heard it. Like most of Generation Y, my first memory of his songs comes from the Adventureland soundtrack, put together by Yo La Tengo. The scene where Jessie Eisenberg and Kirsten Steward are driving to 'Pale Blue Eyes' immortalised The Velvet Underground to a new generation. From there I went to 'Sunday Morning', and from there, to 'Heroin'.

Jonathan Richman has described the first time he heard 'Heroin'. "These people would understand me," he remembered thinking. "I was hypnotised. It was the begging." 'Heroin' is still unlike any other piece of music I've heard in my life. Cale's droning viola sounded like someone was opening a door very slowly, and that was exactly how I felt. It was a rush, and it was a positive escape I needed at the time. If it wasn't for 'Heroin' and Jonathan Richman, I'd probably still be listening to Joy Division and cutting myself.

The next time I was touched by Lou Reed's music he was singing about heroines rather than heroin. The trilogy of albums Reed released in the early 80s, The Blue Mask, Legendary Hearts, and New Sensations, were different to any that he'd made before. Sure, it was Transformer that had me insisting to my friends that this was the best art-pop album ever, the production work from Mick Ronson and Bowie remains inimitable, and the 'do, do-do's are still one of my favourite moments in musical history; but it was 1984's New Sensations that changed by life in a tangible way.

'New Sensations', off New Sensations, changed the way I lived my life. To hear a rock star sing lines like, "I want to eradicate my negative views," and, "I don't want to give it up, I want to stay married," was shocking. Reed was in his 40s, married, and happy. It made no sense. But the more I listened to it, the more it started to. Steadily, things inside me began to unwind. I found more albums, like Richman's I, Jonathan album, and his whole discography, that were focused on positivity and change. It sounds cliché now, but I grew my hair long just because I could. I was enjoying being alive and experiencing things for the first time.

It's strange how attitudes towards music change when an artist dies. I've always loved a few tracks off Reed's less popular albums - Mistrial, Street Hassle - but it's been truly surprising to see more love paid towards Metal Machine Music than I previously knew existed. I've even caught myself wanting to listen to Lulu. It was Reed's singular vision across albums like these - his belief in himself - that I owe more to in my life than from any other musician. As Reed sung on 'Halloween Parade': this Halloween is something to be something to be sure, especially to be here without you.

Listen to 'New Sensations' below:

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