Coming home Sunday afternoon I saw the news of Lou Reed's passing of all places on Instagram. Our friends over at Brooklyn Vegan broke the news to me with an image. In the intervening couple of days virtually every site and artist has posted heartfelt thoughts, images and video about Lou Reed and his influences large and small. We've struggled in the office as to whether we should join in the tribute parade or mock him for affect (a la Hipster Runoff
The truth is no one in our office really felt or shared a definitive passion for Lou Reed or his music. We have known him not as a pioneer and visionary but rather with his wife Laurie Anderson as a curmudgeonly patron of the arts in downtown NYC and Brooklyn. His name on a benefit invitation was a treasured imprimatur on whatever arts organization he was supporting. He falls in the category of American poets like Bob Dylan...artists not necessarily blessed with god given, musical talent, but rather a way with telling us how it is. Lou Reed was also a cool kid...the mere mention of his name implies that untouchable, inner circle of musical cool that's so hard to make sense of. As a friend who felt the need to memorialize him on Facebook yesterday put it, he was part of the high IQ, low virtuosity crowd. It's a crowd we're not sure America appreciates anymore, especially when wrapped in the kind of intellectual elitism that was Lou's calling card. As that same Hipster Runoff article points out, we might have becoming a culture that gets off on our Icona Pop confections instead.
That said, those who appreciate modern music - indie, rock, punk, hip hop, and everything in between - owe some debt of gratitude to Lou's deadpan, honest songwriting. It has inspired several generations worth of musicians to do what they do, so that we can do what we do. Oh, and "Walk on the Wild Side" transfixed me in 1972, providing a titillating lyrical glimpse of the wider world beyond my own suburban Philadelphia. So here's to you Lou...thanks for that. We'd also like to send our deepest sympathies to Laurie Anderson and his immediate family as well. Loss like this is never easy.