My Lou Reed
Lou Reed died this morning. I have a lot of other things I should be writing, & I know ten thousand bloggers are composing their ten thousand stories about how the Velvet Underground changed their lives, & I don’t believe rock & roll bands change people’s lives. But when I was 16, I bought the album 1969 Live at a strip-mall CD outlet in Wichita, Kansas, whence I had been exiled for the summer by my father to get me away from the friends he thought were leading me down the road to ruin (actual phrase he used). I stayed with my grandparents & shoveled horseshit at some stables in Rose Hill, a tiny town outside the city, spreading manure over a pasture from a tractor that had been bright red at some point in the seventies. Rose Hill had a Circle K & a video store & a lovely girl my age named Angie McDavitt & not much else. My Walkman leaked a tinny reproduction of Lou Reed’s voice into my head all day, every day. I’d get home exhausted & sit by my grandmother’s pool & listen to Reed banter with the crowd at the End of Cole Ave club in Dallas: “We saw your Cowboys today, & they never let Philadelphia even have the ball for a minute. It was 42 to 7 by the half, it was ridiculous. I mean you should give other people just a little chance. In football, anyway. This is a song called ‘I’m Waiting for My Man.’” I have every line by heart to this day.
When you’re 16, rock & roll has a gravity it can never have again. That summer, the Velvet Underground were my emotional life. A quarter of a century ago now. And my grandparents are dead, & the ex-cop who ran the stables is dead, & Angie McDavitt is married, & Lou Reed is dead. And when I heard the news, I listened to the first version of “Heroin” on 1969 on my iPod. It’s probably been ten years since the last time I played it. I can’t recapture the intensity of feeling the song had for me in another life. I wouldn’t want to. But the spaces in that song are in my DNA now. And I don’t know just where I’m going.
Some dopey kid said I have “shitty taste in music” because I love Taylor Swift & Pink. It’s good to be reminded that some people haven’t figured out that their distaste for pop is simply—I insist it is simply—a class marker. If you want to live in an aesthetically foreclosed world where your love of x or hate of y marks you as better than a) stoners, b) hicks, or c) mall rats, you’re welcome to do so. But don’t pretend it has anything at all to do with music. It’s just about your sneering, fragile little self, all wrapped up in a band tee like a security blanket. I like to think there’s nothing baffling about loving, at the same time, Taylor Swift, Converge, Sonic Youth, Lil Wayne, George Jones, Ornette Coleman, Geeshie Wiley, the Band, Iron Maiden, & Sarah Vaughan. It’s always the right time to remember what Dave Hickey said: “Bad taste is real taste, of course, and good taste is the residue of someone else’s privilege.”