Every news publication, radio station and relatively-known teen blogger in the world has had something to say about the death of Velvet Underground frontman Lou Reed over the past couple of days; kicking the bucket at 71, Reed has left us neither with a whimper nor a bang, but a decades-long legacy which will carry him through rock ‘n’ roll history for years to come.
Quick to jump to well wishes and ‘rest in peace’ Facebook statuses, it appears that fans are conveniently forgetting that Reed himself rejected the phrase, stating,
“It always bothers me to see people writing RIP when a person dies. It just feels so insincere and like a cop out. To me, RIP is the microwave dinner of posthumous honours.”
On that note, let us instead take time to reflect on some of the reasons Lou Reed, who managed to give us half a century longer than anyone could have imagined, will continue rocking the world from beyond the grave.
1. His blatant stand against television, media and journalists.
Repeatedly hanging up in the middle of interviews, snorting with derision when he found questions either too personal or too blase, the Velvet Underground frontman never made it a secret that he despised those who were giving him the best publicity of his career. This came to a head when, during a Swedish interview, Reed told an extremely nervous interviewer that “Journalists are the lowest form of life”.
2. Knowing that he would live to a ripe old age despite alcohol and drug abuse.
Famously, the singer mocked an interviewer during an attempted intimate questioning, bragging about how he would live to a ripe old age on a farm, all the while matching the reporter “two drinks for one”. Atta boy, Lou. Why not, right?
3. His refusal to write new Velvet Underground songs during their reunion.
Short-lived from the start, The Velvet Underground reformed only for a couple of months in 1993. Touring Europe and releasing a live album, fans began to speculate that some new music may perhaps be released to them in the near future. Some thought it would be amazing, others said to just let sleeping dogs lie – they got their wish; Reed and founding member John Cale had their final falling out, and the band split for the last time without even appearing on MTV: Unplugged.
In a way, his constant tantrums were really for the best – too many bands kill their reputations by flogging dead horses well after the flies have come to feast.
4. His hatred of Jim Morrison.
In all fairness, Reed hated most people. Jim Morrison, however, was no exception. Many celebrities either politely conceal their dislike of their contemporaries, or completely blow any beef out of proportion for media attention and ticket sales. What was special about Reed, then, was that he engaged in neither of these behaviours, favouring instead to voice his deep contempt at any given moment… But only when he deemed it relevant.
From the cuttingly short, “I think Jim Morrison was an asshole” to the snide comparisons designed to put down yet more rock rivals – “Iggy [Pop] was just a bad imitation of Jim, who wasn’t very good anyway.” – it’s clear where the Wild Sider stood in terms of his musical contemporaries. Anyone say pedestal?
5. Refusal to adhere to the ‘celebrity’ stereotype.
How often will you see a man whose entire life is based on the industry say so flippantly, “The music business doesn`t interest me anymore”? – well, often, if we’re talking to Reed.
6. The crooning verses of Coney Island Baby.
What can we say, it’s sometimes a relief to take a break from the cutting personality and remind ourselves of the beauty and talent behind the (slightly weather-beaten) mask. Coney Island Baby displays a much softer side of Reed, who croons about nostalgia and the glory of love.
7. More media shenanigans, this time hanging up on a reporter.
Vanity Fair once had the privilege of interviewing both Reed and Metallica’s Lars Ulrich re: their collab in 2011. Ulrich was chatty and co-operative. The interview with Reed went as follows:
VF: You sound like you don’t even care what anyone thinks of it.
LR: I really don’t.
VF: So why do press about it at all?
LR: Well, we don’t have to do any—
VF: Hello? Lou?
8. The second coming of ‘Berlin’.
The generally cocky performer admitted to The Guardian in 2007 that after the initial flop of his favourite record, Berlin, he had no intention of ever writing a hit song again; having lost faith in the public, his fans and his own music, Reed fell into a state of disillusionment he never previously opened up to.
In later years, however, the album was revived and is now seen as one of the masterpieces of his solo career. For once in his life revealing an intimate detail to a reporter, its creator explains that the theme of the album was jealousy.
“There are certain subjects that will always stand out, and jealousy’s a real big one. Show me a man that’s never been jealous.”
9. Being featured in ClashMusic’s ’100 Most Outrageous Quotes in Music’.
Keeping in mind, the vast majority of these quotes appear to have come from the mouths of the Gallagher brothers, so we may be dealing with an element of bias, Reed strutted his way into the Asshole Hall of Fame with this cracker:
“I like to think of us as Clearasil on the face of the nation. Jim Morrison would have said that if he was smart, but he’s dead.”
10. Sharing his true thoughts on ‘Walk on the Wild Side’.
In a rare, honest interview with British news powerhouse The Guardian in 2007, Reed waxes lyrical about Berlin and how he feels it should have been the recognisable single of his career. When questioned about Walk on the Wild Side, the generally closed off, guarded singer opens up regarding the insecurities that stem from the song that may turn a career into a ‘one hit wonder’.
“Who knows whether I could ever have written another hit [after Walk on the Wild Side]. I haven’t written another hit since then. And even that wasn’t a real hit.”
After decades of assumptions made about Lou Reed, from his forays into the world of transvestites, to his intravenous drug use, all overshadowed by his absurdly high self opinion, it comes as quite a shock to hear such an iconic moment in rock history being put down by its creator.
Even my hit wasn’t a hit.
An original mover, shaker and all-round hell raiser, the Velvet Underground frontman was a love-him-or-hate-him kinda guy. Regardless of which side one chooses to fall on, his influence, creative integrity and musical vision cannot be denied; rest in peace is a parting sentiment he’ll surely reject, so instead let’s all pledge to occasionally take a walk on the wild side in memory of Lou Reed.