Middle-of-the-road obituarists: leave Lou Reed alone!

Andrew Calcutt

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It’s the morning after the day he died and already I’m sick of hearing a whole series of creepy crawlies claiming the late Lou Reed as one of their own.

Really? Why don’t they piss on his corpse while they’re at it?

The whole point about Lou Reed was his refusal to compromise. He would not play the integration game; not for all the heroin in China. In his hands, uncompromising rock ‘n’ roll became as relentless as Rothko; minimal (three chords and it’s already jazz, he complained) to the max. In his mouth, ‘Perfect Day’ became the romance of alienation; because love is for someone else, someone good.

There are only two moments in your life when you can legitimately listen to Lou Reed.

As a teenager, to whom he represents the New York City / Big Apple version of all that angst which you, in your suburban mediocrity, can only dream about. And all the weird sex and drugs which you, still in your suburban mediocrity, can also only dream about. (I first heard Transformer the day I also saw Cabaret and was approached on the way home by a rouged up old roué; of course I didn’t.) But when you’re still a teenager you might still actually do some of it, in which case it’s fine to lay claim to the songs which Uncle Lou is singing for you.

You can have him back again much later when both of you – especially him – are more like King Lear than Hamlet. His brief appearance with Metallica in their musical rendition of German playwright Frank Wedekind’s Lulu story, is the case in point. At which point the rage is all about what you didn’t do; and how now you never, ever will.

In between times, though, you really ought to listen to somebody else, like Frank Sinatra as Falstaff-lite. Because between these turning points, Lou Reed is not for you.

Those of you who would turn him into nothing more than a node to network around: yes, and the Velvet Underground were part of Andy Warhol’s Factory; David Bowie rediscovered him when he had gone back to work in the family accountancy firm; blah, blah, blah.

Shame, shame, shame.

Lou (Lewis Allan) Reed: born 2 March 1942; died 27 October 2013. All the rest is propaganda.

Andrew Calcutt is editor of Proof: Reading Journalism and Society. He is co-author, with Philip Hammond, of Journalism Studies: A Critical Introduction, published by Routledge. Buy this book from Amazon(UK).

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