Brian Eno is often quoted claiming that The Velvet Underground’s first album only sold a few thousand copies, but everyone who bought one formed a band. Maybe this anecdote is little more than a gem of hyperbolic rock mythos, but the influence of the Velvets cannot be overstated.
Under the spotlight stood lead singer and songwriter Lou Reed, a contrarian and iconoclast-turned-unlikely-star who shook 60’s pop to its core with gritty tunes about angst, queer sexuality and the unglamorous side of drug culture. A man of contradictions with a particular fondness for irony, Reed embraced a persona that was at once gawky and flamboyant. The more he eschewed conventions, the more he became idolized. With his dark glasses and even darker lyrics, Lou Reed became the embodiment of “cool” precisely because he didn’t intend to be.
This is the legacy Lou Reed leaves behind after his 71 years on the planet. He sparked not only a revolution in music, but also a sea change in thought.
Among the many tributes from musicians such as David Bowie, Patti Smith, Morrissey, and David Byrne, the most poignant comes from VelvetUnderground co-founder John Cale: “The world has lost a fine songwriter and poet…I’ve lost my ‘school-yard buddy.’”
Perhaps this is why Lou Reed’s death feels more than the passing of a famous, but distant, musician. Throughout the decades, he became a friend to us all. A sardonic friend with his arms folded as he waited for a pusher uptown (“I’m Waiting For the Man”) but a friend, nonetheless.
It was such that for the last six years, I always started my Sundays with the first track off of The Velvet Underground & Nico. This weekend, I slept in and awoke, disoriented, to the news. I was otherwise inconsolable until I decided to take a deep breath and actually put on the song.
“Watch out, the world’s behind you
There’s always someone around you who will call
It’s nothing at all”
It was pure, unsaturated bliss. It was a state of mind, a realm that transcended time and place and death. I can imagine Reed, a devotee of the religion of rock ‘n roll, scoffing at discussions of the afterlife. But, if there was ever a heaven, one can’t help imagine it would look and sound just like the music video for “Sunday Morning.”