One More for Lou Reed
Oct 31, 2013
Firstly, apologies for a long blog-less absence by Al Harlow: It's been a tumultuous year thus far, with separation & pending divorce, ailing parents, deaths of friends, re-aligning business directions while keeping children secure and loved in the face of dissolution from family to displacement... Such tests of faith and fortitude can distract one from communicating in a blog. Now back, I'll endeavour to remain your loyal scribe herein, and shall try not to bore you in future installments.
With numerous developments in the recent past to be expounded upon soon, perhaps the catalyst this week which got these keys clicking and re-blogging was the solemn pause upon learning of Lou Reed's passing. So much has been expressed, outpoured and explained about this complex artist, not much more can be added. But here is one little story you won't read about Reed anywhere else:
On June 29 and 30,1968 The Velvet Underground performed at Vancouver's Retinal Circus, then the hip dancehall on Davie Street, where everyone from the Youngbloods through the burgeoning Doors played during the period.
Velvet's bassist Sterling Morrison had broken his arm the day of the band's arrival in town, so the Seeds of Time bassist Steve Walley was recruited to play with the Velvet Underground for their Vancouver dates. This somehow facilitated the likes of yours truly joining the insiders in the Velvet's dressingroom, which was little more than a storage room opening straight onto the dancefloor on the far wall to stage left.
We became friendly with Lou and the band, until at one moment Lou glanced at us all with that deadpan look and stated, "You people seem normal. Why don't you show us around Vancouver?" That spoke volumes about the authentic New York street savvy of Lou Reed. "You people seem normal"?
His obituaries around the world this week are gushing with how brave an artist Lou was, uncompromising, at once literary in visions of rock music as high art, while simultaneously out on the streets. Though Jim Morrison was also conveying dark poetic images into the rock lexicon at that time, Morrison was theatre of the mind, the imagination. Lou Reed was singing about actual experience. Candy Darling, Holly Woodlawn, Little Joe were all real people in Lou's New York. The first time I ever heard "Waitin' For The Man", the song stopped me cold, because I had also spent long wait-times for jive dope-dealers to show up after they said they would. Lou laid it out in that matter-of-fact deadpan vocal with the throbbing machine-like rhythm of the Velvets, and turned that addicted, frustrated experience into beauty, musical art without any pretense. It was perhaps a bit too real, but it grabbed deep. Music could be this honest, this blunt.
So a few in our gang showed Lou Reed and his drummer Maureen Tucker around Vancouver. I recall very little of that night, unfortunately. I was blasted out of my skull on mescaline or some substance, and was the designated driver. "You people seem normal" indeed; it was 1968 after all. I only remember having Lou Reed and Mo Tucker in the back seat of my Chevy II with Carter "Weiner" Laloge and "Crazy" Bruce Rotheron along, as we drove to Richmond in search of a haunted house. Lou and Mo were totally straight at the time, refusing all of the substances and refreshments offered to them. As my memory fails as to any details that evening, sadly Carter and Bruce have both long since passed away, taking any possible further recollections with them.
We all survived the night and my stoned driving, and the Velvet Underground performed their two nights with Steve Walley on bass.
Lou Reed went on to be the fearless, uncompromising artist through "Transformer", "Berlin", incredible live album "Rock 'n Roll Animal", through droning "Metal Machine Music" and some twenty other albums, the Edgar-Allen-Poe-expounding "The Raven" among them, to "Lulu' with Metallica.
Nobody this week has noted that the song "This Perfect Day" was a musical essay on the Ira Levin future-shock novel of the same name. When your humble scribe read the book and then heard the newly-released song, admiration for the literary side of Reed only rose higher still.
And while the Velvet Underground's lack of commercial success has been commented on, attributed to the radio-non-friendly content of its stark lyrics, no-one has noted the degree to which the band was totally out of step with the love-and-beads hippie movement exploding out of San Francisco as The Statement of youth culture of the day. When the Velvet Underground brought its dark vision of New York's night life to sunny California on tour that summer of love, Maureen Tucker was heard to scoff, "F*cking hippies..." The feeling was mutual; the band just didn't fit.
Victorious Lou Reed opened up those seedy, real streets in song, so that, as David Bowie said, a whole generation of art-rockers, punk bands and metal artists could enter and populate those streets. That makes Reed a courageous visionary and pioneer. May the Lord rest the soul of a man who now walks on the Other Side.