Lou Reed died on 27 October, 2013. The Dead C's Bruce Russell on horrifying all solid citizens
When Lou Reed died, I was on stage on the other side of the world, wearing whiteface make-up, dressed as Baron Samedi, Lord of the Cemetary and of Crossroads. I was playing guitar in a civic pageant and giant puppet show, to the manifest horror of all solid citizens, peeling off a ten minute burst of hysterically overamped atonal noise. This symbolised the destruction wrought on my city by 10,000 earthquakes, as well as the ceaseless historical onrush of all-consuming capitalism, consigning us to annihilation. And the reason I was doing it was, quite simply: Lou Reed.
I was forcibly reminded of this the next day, having been woken absurdly early by my wife to the news that Lou had passed on. We are in the midst of selling our home of 19 years, and consequently I later found myself opening a box of classic 1980s fanzines to check if they were still wanted on the voyage. Plucking the summer 1989 issue of Black To Comm from the box, I sat down to collect my thoughts. Imagine my surprise when I realised that reprinted in this fanzine (which I had not looked at in at least 15 years), was an interview conducted by Peter Laughner with Lou Reed, a few days before Rock N Roll Animal was recorded in 1973. As I read, I realised that this was the interview where Lou talked about why he was no longer playing guitar (he had at that point given it up), and how his atonal solos from the White Light/White Heat period were inspired by Ornette Coleman and Cecil Taylor. I was almost unable to believe the coincidence that I should again find myself reading these words – 23 years after I first read them – on the very day Lou had died.
For me, that simple statement about “I Heard Her Call My Name” et al encapsulated one of Lou’s greatest gifts to rock music. Leaving aside his literate street lyricism, his unflinching attitude towards the reality of human nature and his prescient willingness to propose rock music as a genuine artform designed to redeem from damnation all les enfants perdus: Lou Reed was the first to posit that rock ’n’ roll was at heart nothing more nor less than a blast of skronking noise. On record, he did this at the instant when he sang “and then my mind split open”. It was in my opinion the most perfect moment on any rock record ever, and always will be.
For me, a guy trying to find his path through the maze of post-post-punk, lacking any real technical skill but possessed of an evangelical zeal for sound as the raw material of art; it was Lou who gave me permission, through his recorded works, to dream. That comment to Peter Laughner (of all people!), that when he played guitar the way he liked to play, people would walk out; and that his inspiration to do that was the revolutionary fire music being made at that time on the black side of the street – that set me firmly on my path. Lou had told me that he himself had set out to do exactly what I wanted to do, and for me, no more justification was needed.
That’s how I found myself last weekend freaking out the squares of Christchurch, New Zealand, accompanying a giant puppet show in voodoo fancy dress, as Lou lay dying. The ensuing 23 years had done nothing to diminish my admiration for his talent, nor my dedication to carry out the legacy that I felt he had (unknowingly) bequeathed to me. For me, since I had first heard his name in the mid-70s, he had always been the paradigm of what rock music could and should be. And he always will be. So pull up a cushion, or whatever else you have with you that makes life bearable, and spare a thought for Uncle Lou: he’s our sweet nothin’.