When I woke up to the news that Lou Reed died yesterday, it hit me hard, like losing a favorite Uncle, the one who skipped town for the big city and never came home again. This is not such a stretch actually– we love our favorite artists so much that they can be like family– they comfort us in our darkest moods and they’re urging us on when the sun is strong and our step is confident. And we love them for that. We even forgive them for growing old and losing that magic touch they had when they were young and the whole world was still ahead of them.
Like most kids I got to know Lou as a part rather than a whole, picking up the Velvet Underground’s legendary box set, Peel Slowly and See, when I was 21 years old, just after finishing college at the beach town of Santa Barbara. I had vague notions of becoming a writer, though at the time it was more of a fantasy than anything. More or less, I was a broke wannabe fabulist hungry for experience, but still considering fallback plans like law school or a graduate degree. The odd jobs weren’t paying much and I didn’t really know what I had to say except that it was important to live and love deeply. Lou Reed and the V.U. were the soundtrack of those early years when I committed myself to a certain lifestyle of risk.
I started to write about Lou Reed and I ended up writing about myself, inevitable when our rock and roll heroes are such personal touchstones. But they are, and we worship them the way we once loved gods and kings. I could never quite love a woman who did not get Lou Reed: failing to apprehend the euphoria of “Sweet Jane” or the despair of “Pale Blue Eyes” would be irrefutable evidence of some deeper irreconcilable disconnect between us. No question that downloading mp3s in the Age of iTunes has cheapened our relationship to music; nevertheless we cling to our heroes. Yesterday I lost one of mine and I can forever put out of my mind the fantasized encounter. The spirit may leave this world but the song remains the same.