So my album of the year is not technically an album.
This post is half cop out and half tribute. If I’m being completely honest, year after year I lose a bit of my passion for pursuing new music. As I put more mileage between my current self and my college self, I tend to tenaciously hold on to what I know and love, and spend less and less time exploring the unknown.
I suppose that’s why in lieu of listening to Miley Cyrus’s new album and ferociously debating her controversial ‘Wrecking Ball’ video in the last few weeks of 2013 like most hip people below the age of 25 did, I chose a different route.
I mourned. I mourned the death of Lou Reed, and punk, and a world where every single move by a musician wasn’t choreographed by some agent or label ravenously seeking publicity. I mourned a time when groundbreaking artists were actually judged on the merit of and passion for their work.
Don’t get me wrong; I still give the former Ms. Montana credit for bringing music videos back into vogue, even if it was only for a brief moment. Yet, whether she knows it or not, she owes a debt to Mr. Lou Reed. And whether you know it or not, you do too.
Lou Reed’s legacy looms larger than any single year or even a single decade. He is a bonafide legend. And legends are timeless. Need more reasons to love Reed? The following are 5 reasons to persuade you to put down that album with the naked pop star, and pick yourself up a piece of musical history.
One – Don’t think you know who Lou Reed is? You do. You definitely do. If these songs aren’t indelibly etched in your mind, they need to be, so click on.
Walk on the Wild Side
Sunday Morning (Velvet Underground and Nico)
Sound familiar? I can practically feel you nodding. It’s a testament to Lou Reed’s talent that you know his music before you know who he is as an individual. Incalculable musicians have been influenced by his music, and if you don’t know the songs above, treat yourself to a belated Christmas gift and click on over to amazon and purchase either the Velvet Underground’s first album, or Lou Reed’s first solo album Transformer, produced by none other than David Bowie. Or use iTunes or Spotify. Or pirate it. Rebel that he was, Lou probably wouldn’t care if you got it for free, as long as you listened. Bottom line, just listen.
Two – Reed was an integral part of the punk boom in New York City. As documented in the oral history of punk "Please Kill Me", pop artist Andy Warhol’s involvement with the Velvet Underground helped legitimize the punk ‘scene’ in NYC, giving leeway to the bad behaviors of eventually groundbreaking bands such as Television, the Ramones, and Iggy and the Stooges. If you have ever felt even a slight affinity with punk culture, or have ever lamented the loss of pre-Giuliani ‘gritty NYC’, “Please Kill Me” is required reading for your next snow day.
Three – Reed tried his best to be unlikeable but cool. He avidly followed his passion for creating music that made sense to him, audience be damned. While his ‘punk’ contemporaries were quite loud, Reed had a subdued tone that truly felt like a Sunday morning. His most popular albums exuded a relaxed and indifferent cool amidst a chaotic, nomadic, perpetually intoxicated life.
Four – A few months before his death, Reed took the time out to write a review of what is probably the actual best album of 2013. Despite his near debilitating illness, he wrote a lively and engaging review of Kanye West's 'Yeezus'. Even at deaths door, Reed had his finger to the pulse of contemporary music, and as evidenced by his near ubiquitous praise for West's album, continued to champion the idea of creating music for oneself, and not for anyone else.
Five - Lou Reed died on October 27th, 2013. My fiancée Chris and I coincidentally had tickets to a Phish show that evening. As the members of Phish have been vocal about being influenced by the works of Lou Reed, we speculated that the band would open with the Velvet Underground song, ‘Rock and Roll’. They did. And it was magnificent. The entire crowd at the Hartford XL Center sang along with the words and swayed in unison. For the majority of the concertgoers, I can only imagine that Reed’s music was a discovery made at some point in college or high school. Whether the find was made via an album passed down from an older brother or sister, a snippet heard in a music history course, or, like me, discovered after becoming throughly intoxicated by the undulating highs and lows of 'Heroin' played in the background at a house party. To me, Reed's fans, both young and old, remembered his music on that day. I’d like to think that perhaps some new fans were even created in that very moment, simultaneously basking in the memory of an icon and eagerly anticipating the promise of his legacy.