Lou Reed passed away on Sunday, October 27th. I found out over a lovely birthday breakfast with four of my closest friends. The message came as a text based alert from a popular music news site. My initial thought was “That’s a bummer, but not unexpected.” Then I started really thinking about Mr Reed. His music, and more specifically, the music of The Velvet Underground has had a huge influence in my life. I still listen to “Sister Ray” in it’s entirety at least once a month. I once had a dream where I met Lou backstage at a Nine Inch Nails concert, and he told me that he was a big fan of mine, and how excited he was to meet me. He was also shaving his own head at the time. I thought that my perfect mate would be a woman that thought that our perfect first dance at our wedding would be “Pale Blue Eyes.”
I still vividly remember being introduced to The Velvet Underground. It was my sophomore year in college. Sure, before then I was loosely aware of the music of Lou Reed. I knew “Walk On The Wild Side” and “Satellite Of Love” from the radio, and I knew “Sweet Jane” as a Cowboy Junkies song. However, I was taking Journalism 101 at SF State, and, well, I had a crush on a girl in class. I was a bit socially awkward. And, by a bit, I mean really awkward. And I definitely didn’t know how to date in college. I digress… I can’t remember her name, but she was really cute. She had brown curly hair, didn’t wear make up, and wore these amazing vintage dresses. I did, eventually, find an excuse to talk to her. She was really cool, too! She was into Juliana Hatfield and Jack Kerouac, as was I. We became study buddies for a bit. I really liked her, and, of course, I made sure that she didn’t know at all that I had a crush on her. She was also about five years older than me, so I was pretty sure she would just laugh off any advances that I would make. She did, however, change my life with two things. First, she would take her coffee over ice, half full of milk, with no sweetener. I still enjoy coffee taken that way. Secondly, she loaned me her copy of The Velvet Underground & Nico.
This record was like nothing else I have ever listened to. I always assumed they were like other New York punk bands: simple, catchy, and brilliant. Although the record was, in fact, brilliant, it was neither simple nor catchy. The mood shifts on this album helped me see how diverse a record could be. “Sunday Morning” is a gorgeous, warm, and delicate number. The next track, “I’m Waiting For The Man,” was almost like the punk rock I was listening to, but so much darker and weirder. As I dug deeper in the album, I heard layers of noise that just kept me wanting for more. The chaos of “The Black Angel Death Song” was glorious. I’d never done heroin, but after I heard “Heroin,” I actually think I had a sense of what such a drug could feel like.
After the semester was over, I never heard from the woman that introduced me to this record again. I wore out the tape I made from the CD she loaned me, and eventually purchased the Velvet Underground Box Set. It was the first set of this type I ever purchased, and I still listen to the whole thing pretty frequently.
About a year later or so, I was living off campus in an illegal in-law. I was also really into the internet. I also still didn’t know how to date. I did, however, meet a girl online that lived in Sacramento. We talked about music. Most specifically, a mutual love of The Velvet Underground and Lou Reed. This was around the time Ecstasy came out. I really wanted to meet in real life, and Lou was playing the Berkeley Community Theater, so I bought us tickets. It came around to the day before the show, and she told me she couldn’t come down for the show. I think it may have been too weird for her to meet some guy two hours away that was willing to buy concert tickets for her. Oh well… I still went to the show. Brought a friend of mine that kept a framed copy of Sally Can’t Dance on his wall. We had a good time. She never spoke to me again, either.
So, here we are, over a decade later. I never stopped with my love of Lou Reed’s music. I still am not particularly good at dating, either, but that’s an entirely different story. Thank you, Lou, for the many memories. I’m sad that we never met in real life, but maybe that’s for the better. You did do a fine job at shaving your own head.