Monday, 28 October 2013

Vale Lou Reed

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Singer for the Velvet Underground Lou Reed passed away in his native New York overnight. He was 71. Online there have been massive outpourings of grief in tribute to him, with many op-eds glowing in hyperbolic praise for his work.

I've never been a huge fan of his work, but I can appreciate a maverick when I see one. Lou Reed was definitely one of those. Lou followed his muse constantly, pushing himself, his critics and his audiences in new directions constantly throughout his career. He challenged and confused us music fans at every turn, and infuriated us on more than one occasion. I also believe he pushed the limits of rock music as an art-form in previously uncharted and, in some cases, very dangerous waters.

From the outset, as a member of the Andy Warhol-patronised Velvet Underground, his music pushed the boundaries of pop - it introduced avant garde elements such as drones, minimalism and noise, while Lou's lyrics dared to delve into areas and topics that were considered taboo.

Only Lou Reed could write a song about drugs that would dare to describe the time and place to make a drug deal, and the price, all in straigh-forward, to-the-point detail. And yet, as simple as he makes it sound, it does not sound appealing or attractive in the slightest, which is entirely the point.

Even songs that sound happy have deep dark undercurrents. While "Walk On The Wild Side" has a breezy, free-flowing feel, the lyrics about transvestites and gratuitous sex are anything but breezy.

And this is a common theme in his work, chronicalling the lives of the dispossessed and the marginalised in the seedy underbelly of major cities: the hustlers, junkies, pimp, prostitutes, drug dealers, the sexually experimental. He was never afraid to call it like he saw it, which often meant calling it for exactly what it was.

Even his collaboration with Metallica, the much-maligned and ill-conceived "Lulu", dealt with these dark issues, and again pushed audiences and critics to the limits of their sanity. It wasn't the first time he'd done that, mind you. He released the contractual-obligation LP "Metal Machine Music" in 1975, a wall-to-wall atonal noise-fest over 4 sides of a 65-minute double LP. While people like Lester Bangs reckoned it was the greatest record ever made, it annoyed the shit out of a hell of a lot of people. But this was purely his intention. He wanted to be confrontational to test the limits of an audience whom he percieved to be fleeting in their tastes.

The confrontational maverick type is all-but-gone these days, with only a few like Nick Cave still pushing the envelope. Lou was an original, to be sure. He will be missed. R.I.P.

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