The summer of 1973, I went to New York for the first time.
New York is many things, represented in many ways, especially in film and music. In my 15-year-old Midwestern imagination, New York was a black and white movie with a jazz soundtrack. But when I arrived in the city, it was Panavision, technicolor and rock ‘n’ roll.
And just beneath the noise, the nonstop rhythm, was the sound of Lou Reed. I had heard of Lou and had listened to the Velvet Underground. (His single “Take a Walk on the Wild Side” had been released and was on the charts. To say that song was everywhere doesn’t do it justice.)
But being in New York, for me, meant being around people who not only knew about Lou Reed, they also knew ’60s art and music and counterculture expression, and were able to talk about it because they understood it.
That’s not to say I understood it. But what I did get, at that impressionable age, was that people, all kinds of people, had things to say, and expressed themselves in ways that went with the groove, and against it. And what they had to say was expressed in ways that included writing, painting, music, performance art, even in the way a person presented themselves to the world: straight, conservative, liberal, gay, transgender. It was all there, in New York, in the people I met, and in Lou’s music.
I didn’t know what to do with it, not at 15. At that age I had only begun to realize that storytelling was what I wanted to do, and I had to find a way to do it. But knowing that stories could be found anywhere, stories that opened the mind to new ideas, to ways of life unlike one’s one, to confronting issues and feelings that were other people’s realities — it was powerful beyond anything I could articulate.
I was sorry to hear that Lou Reed had died recently. But it has meant that the world has been able to take an appreciative look back at him and his art. It’s been interesting to hear Lou talk about music and self-expression. He was not a part of the pop music scene, and said he was not a juke box, pushing out hit after hit. In later years, he said that if you took his work, one after another, and put it together, it was his Great American Novel.
Since his death, I’ve been thinking about him, and many of the people who made an impression on my during my teen years. Back then I was an apprentice to my hopes and dreams. Some worked out, some didn’t. But in the remembering, a person can honor an influential artist. So, thanks Lou. (And, I really liked you in “Blue in the Face.”)
Do you remember Lou? Tell me about it.