New York is the most exciting, riveting and frightening place I have ever been.
Desperate poverty and Caligula excess in one teeming street.
For me, it represents the pinnacle and the nadir of what my species can achieve.
It is addictive to me.
If I won the lottery, I would buy a house in Greenwich Village and walk around New York for the rest of my life.
I first heard Lou Reed via the LP, ‘Berlin’.
I was 18 and my best friend, photographer James Finch, played me the whole thing.
I could not believe my ears.
It was desperate, detached, loose, brutal, tough, gorgeous and wry.
It was astounding.
Like Dylan hoping weapon manufacturers would die, singing about standing over their graves to make sure they were dead, Caroline Says and The Bed were shocking masterpieces.
Dirty little drops of economy.
When the crying children chorus came in on The Kids, I was floored, not sure how to react.
It is still a Polaroid from hell today.
From there I went back to The Velvet Underground (without question, the most influential band who ever existed) and ‘Transformer’.
His songs, his voice, were the sound of cool, cool New York to me.
I desperately wanted to go there.
The Face Staring Back From The Mirror
Through circumstances I don’t fully recall, I rode through blurred New York with dealer Adey, watching him sell narcotics in middle-class college and biker bars.
His bodyguards let me ride in the front with him, snorting for free off the dashboard and drinking ‘kamikaze’s’.
We talked about hopes and the future and he told me about escaping from Puerto Rico and prison.
He told me he was living the American Dream and didn’t expect to survive past 30.
He showed me his apartment, his harem, his Uzi machine guns and offered me bowls of soft, white cocaine like snow from heaven.
In every bar, I would put Walk On The Wild Side on every jukebox.
We must have hit twenty bars that night.
He started to call me Lou.
It was fabulous.
Ten years later, I had been clean and sober for about four years when I stepped onto the little stage at The Bitter End (a music club in NYC) one Saturday night and fulfilled a 30 year ambition.
In the little backstage room, I met a young Russian rock singer who came to America to meet Lou Reed and later, sang Walk On The Wild Side from that same stage.
Anyway, the point of this, is to illustrate how Lou Reed has been with me for a long time.
I would never call myself a ‘fan’, but I have loved his music through thick and thin and respected his work very much.
I didn’t like everything he recorded, but some of it is amongst my favourite.
His guitar playing was economical, his guitar and amp sound was always great and he could really write.
He is up in my top ten ‘rock’ music lyric writers for sure.
Dylan, Waits, Cohen, Bowie and Reed.
I also like that he got sober, had a distinctive voice and released Metal Machine Music.
I never managed to listen to it all the way through but I liked that he did it.
Busload Of Faith
I think ‘New York’ is my favourite Lou Reed album. It has the lot. The writing is fantastic, the music varied and the band are cooking.
I mean, just lyrically, it kills:
“Caught between the twisted stars,
the plotted lines, the faulty map
that brought Columbus to New York
Betwixt between the East and West,
he calls on her wearing a leather vest,
the earth squeals and shudders to a halt
A diamond crucifix in his ear
is used to help ward off the fear
that he has left his soul in someone’s rented car.
Inside his pants he hides a mop
to clean the mess that he has dropped
into the life of lithesome Juliette Bell
Romeo Rodriguez squares
his shoulders and curses Jesus,
runs a comb through his black pony-tail.
He’s thinking of his lonely room
the sink that by his bed gives off a stink
then smells her perfume in his eyes…
The perfume burned his eyes
holding tightly to her thighs
And something flickered for a minute
and then it vanished and was gone.”
There it is.
Classic Lou Reed. Hard urban beauty and tough love.
The LP has everything that Lou Reed meant to me.
Fallen-through-the-cracks observation of Halloween Parade, the American political raps, blistered rage at capitalism, celebrity and pure, ugly greed.
If you lifted the roof off any tenement building in the poor areas of New York, Endless Cycle would be seen, spiralling down and, occasionally, up.
For every American success story, there are a thousand Endless Cycles and Pedro’s, finding books on magic in garbage cans and dreaming of killing their fathers, while a landlord laughs until he wets his pants.
Dirty Blvd, one of the best songs he ever wrote, is a film, a novel, a poem and three and a half minutes of genius.
There is humour, blow jobs, tenderness and sarcasm.
I adore it.
His voice is the voice of New York to me.
Every time I hear it I get euphoric recall and roll around in the street, laughing, drunk and stoned, in heaven and in hell.
He died on my 50th birthday and I cried.
I will miss his contribution to the world and I am grateful for his songs.