I am tired, I am weary
I could sleep for a thousand years
A thousand dreams that would awake me
Different colors made of tears
Let’s be blunt: by all accounts Lou was a surly cantankerous son-of-a-bitch. Confrontational with collaborators. Abusive to music journalists. Indifferent to fans.
He did what he wanted, when he wanted and how he wanted. And if you didn’t like it, well, fuck you.
In other words, he was awesome. A shining example of the rarest and most enviable character trait – not giving a shit what other people think of you.
Despite this, people loved him. Lou’s influential contribution to music is well documented. He’s considered the Godfather of Punk and is a hero to many rockers who recognize beauty in dissonant noise and aggressive, blunt lyrics.
Lou made four extraordinary and entirely distinct studio albums with the legendary Velvet Underground in the 1960s, and close to 30 solo albums since. He made everything from sombre masterpieces like Berlin and Street Hassle to befuddling noisy experiments like Metal Machine Music and whatever that thing was that he did with Metallica a few years ago.
And always, always, always on his own terms.
This was clear from the start.
In the 1960s, during the height of flower power, Lou and the Velvets were a harsh dose of cynicism shot through the heart of psychedelic sunshine. While so many others sought love, peace and transcendence, the Velvets were scraping poetry out of the gutters and back alleys of New York’s darkest streets. It was real. It was harsh. And it was beautiful.
I worked my way up to the Velvet Underground stuff. Lou first stormed my teenage brain in 1989 with his album New York – a straight-up classic rock song-cycle about his hometown in decline. Lou had seen his beloved New York rot, and he was mighty pissed off about it. The liner notes from Lou clearly explained that the album was meant to be listened to from beginning to end in one sitting, “like a book or a movie”. I read those words and decided I better follow Lou’s instructions. I popped the cassette into my Sony Walkman and hit play.
The first words I heard were:
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
The song was “Romeo Had Juliette”, a tune about young love in a desperate place.
Elsewhere, he snarled:
Give me your hungry, your tired your poor I’ll piss on ’em
that’s what the Statue of Bigotry says
Your poor huddled masses, let’s club ’em to death
and get it over with and just dump ’em on the boulevard
I was entranced. I stayed up half the night doing just what Lou had told me to do, savouring every note and every twisted lyric. What filthy, enraged poetry! I listened to the whole thing twice. A Lou addict was born.
In 1992, my old friend and fellow Lou addict Trevor was by my side to see Lou at Massey Hall on his Magic and Loss tour.
Today, Trevor shared some thoughts on Lou with me. Here’s what he had to say:
What a loss we suffered yesterday. I’ve been reflecting on the role Lou played in my life over the past 20+ years. I remember seeing him with you at Massey Hall when he was promoting his album at the time. Someone yelled out to play Sweet Jane or some other well-known Velvet song and Lou told the guy to fuck off. Popularity be damned. A true artist in every sense.
I’ve been pleased to hear all the positive coverage about The Man over the past 24 hours- recognizing his contributions.
I dusted off Velvet Underground and Nico this morning since that was the album that changed it all. For me it was the one that took me from an obsessed Beatles fan to virtually leaving them in the dust. Hard to believe that it came out in ’67- the same year Sgt Pepper was released. No comparison in my book.
R.I.P. Lou. A true icon.
Good-bye, Lou. The world is a cooler and way more interesting place because you were in it.