In memoriam of one of the original odd ones.
It really shouldn’t come as any surprise regarding how often musicians’ lives play out on their records. Creation is an act of self, and so it stands to reason that much of the artist’s experiences would find their way into the music. But few artists have so dramatically pored themselves into their albums like Lou Reed.
And for someone who isn’t familiar with his solo discography or his work in The Velvet Underground, tackling Reed can seem like a daunting and often circuitous prospect. Sometimes, though, all you need is for someone to play you an album, and it begins to make sense. It all began to make sense to me some years ago while I was working at Chad’s Records.
But I’m getting ahead of myself-Reed died Oct. 27, 2013. And the musical world felt the loss of an elder rock statesmen, one whose legacy will never be matched.
Reed’s wild and unique life could fill books-and has. If you’ve ever read “Please Kill Me: The Uncensored Oral History of Punk” by Legs McNeil (and if you haven’t, you should), you’ve been privy to some of the most debased and clichéd rock star excesses that have ever been put to paper. Recollections of drug use, sexual openness and other things we take for granted from artists who lived in the ’70s come pouring off the page in unfiltered waves. And a good many of them revolved around Reed.
From the electroshock therapy he received as a teenager to the drug addictions that brought him to the brink of death on many occasions, Reed’s life was a fountainhead of frustration, anger and desperation. His ability to live and breathe within these jagged emotions was one of his greatest natural gifts.
He had a street-level charisma on and off the stage that seemed to create an emotional magnetism that drew all sorts of people toward him-regardless of the consequences. His life was a complicated series of loves, addictions and rock ‘n’ roll fantasies.
And he wrote “Perfect Day.”
His records were collections of insular insights into a troubled psyche that often devolved into convoluted narratives and fractured rock melodies. And by working within their own splintered logic, Reed’s songs found a sort of spiritual equilibrium with the chaotic world around them.
Nowhere is this more obvious than on “Transformer,” his 1972 masterpiece that was produced by David Bowie and Mick Ronson. It spawned hits like “Perfect Day,” “Walk on the Wild Side” and “Satellite of Love”-but it was more than simply the sum total of its individual songs. “Transformer” was Reed laid bare and offering up his own sordid history as fodder for our listening pleasure, or discomfort, as was often the case.
I first heard “Transformer” in bits and pieces-in a commercial or some movie soundtrack. And it was a soundtrack that began my Reed odyssey. Danny Boyle’s film “Trainspotting” included “Perfect Day,” and from the moment when lead character Mark Renton falls irrevocably under the sway of a heroin overdose and those gorgeous opening piano notes are heard, I was as hooked as Renton.
But full credit goes where credit is due, and that goes to Chad Bledsoe, owner of Chad’s Records.
What: Chad’s Records
When: Monday-Saturday, 11 a.m.-6 p.m. and Sunday, 1-6 p.m.
Where: 40 Frazier Ave.
The amount that he knew and the amount that I did not was fairly staggering. Like I said before, I worked at Chad’s Records many years ago, and in lieu of payment, I accepted records. Chad was the reason I listened to “Transformer” in the first place. We started talking about The Velvet Underground, John Cale’s solo work and Reed’s post-VU output. I contributed where I could but mostly just listened as Chad spoke of Reed’s music.
And then he decided to play me this record.
From the opening of “Vicious” to the closing track of “Goodnight Ladies,” I was enthralled. How had a record this amazing and brazenly honest not found its way into my hands before? Obviously, I then gorged myself on everything Reed has released, including his often-maligned “Metal Machine Music.”
But it all goes back to that evening when someone played me a record. Sometimes, that’s all it takes. Maybe you’ll find someone else hiding in Chad’s Records, but that night, for me and Chad, Reed was playing just for us.
The next time you’re on Frazier Avenue with some time to kill, head over to Chad’s Records. If Chad is there, ask him what record he would suggest. It’ll only take a moment, and who knows, you might just find your new favorite record. And though Reed might not be there the day you go (in spirit, at least), I’m sure you’ll run across some of his friends, such as David Bowie or Iggy Pop, hanging around.
Joshua Pickard covers local and national music, film and other aspects of pop culture. You can contact him on Facebook, Twitter or by email. The opinions expressed in this column belong solely to the author, not Nooga.com or its employees.
Updated @ 8:06 a.m. on 12/2/13 to correct a typographical error.