Tuesday, March 2, 2021

Happy birthday, Lou. I still miss you.

2013: A few days before Lou said goodbye

Happy birthday, Lou. Today would have been your 79th had the self-abuses of your early adulthood not caught up to you before your 72nd. But hey, a half-century ago, who among us actually expected you to see your 40th? So all in all, I guess the sobriety and health regimen that drove the last three-plus decades of your life did get you pretty far, didn't it?

Anyway, just thought I'd check in to let you know you're not forgotten. I'm not listening to your music much these days, mostly since your rock-and-roll output stopped around the turn of the century as you turned to legacy-building and your vanity projects.

Now and then something comes up that prompts me to revisit a couple or three of your albums. It just happened in the past few days, as a matter of fact, as Geezer Bob and I have been writing and talking about those old Velvet Underground records that just never seem to go away. It's been a great few days. I got Bob to listen to Loaded for the first time in his life, and it gave me an opportunity to dive in with an analytic ear, trying to ignore that this record has been part of my DNA for 50 years and hear it through Bob's ears. I kind of got there -- for one thing, Bob helped me appreciate "Oh! Sweet Nuthin'," which I'd shrugged off for decades as filler. (By the way, Lou, I wish you could have been around to catch this David Johansen performance of "Nuthin'." I found it last night on YouTube, shared it with Bob, and it blew us both away. I know you always loved when somebody covered one of your songs. I promise you, this one would have brought you to tears.)

So anyway, Lou, that little exercise with Bob got me to thinking again about the VU catalog, and I decided last night to let my analytic ear tackle the self-titled third VU album, which had never been much of a favorite. And you know what? I really enjoyed it. I'd always thought of it as your ballad album, the one where you hijacked the band to do your singer-songwriter thing, and never really paid too close attention to it. But now I gotta hand it to you: You pulled that off really well. You got more rock and roll in there than I remembered. And it is unmistakably a Velvet Underground record as opposed to how I had always thought of it, a Lou Reed solo album in disguise.

Oh, geez, I'm sorry for the digression, Lou. I didn't come here to talk about the Velvets. I know you never really minded too much that people would keep doing that to you for as long as you were here with us. But please forgive me, though, it wasn't my intention. My bad. It's just that this is where the Lou Reed part of my brain has been, coincidentally, over the past couple weeks. I do have firm plans to get to an analysis of your solo career for the Geezerology blog. But my plan was to go work on a couple of other things first after Bob and I both just got so much down on the VU -- let that breathe for awhile before bringing you back around.

1973: Lou in danger of losing himself

But then I read this morning that today is your birthday, and I started thinking about you again. And I can't lie to you, I do get emotional sometimes when my brain processes again that you really are gone for good. Christ almighty, Lou, your records were such a big part of my life for so many years. Not so much in the past 20 years as they were in the previous 30, obviously. We had about a 10-year run there when I got used to not having you around much anymore. The disinterest even got to a point where I ignored a few of your later projects -- The Raven, Hudson River Wind Meditations, the Metal Machine Trio, and that god-awful Lulu that you made with Metallica a couple years before you died. None of that interested me. So yeah, your output pretty much fell off my radar after Ecstasy, the last great Lou Reed album as it turned out. The turn of the century brought us a different Lou Reed, one that became more focused on his past than his future, and I lost my desire to hang out with you anymore.

So, Lou, I know this does read more like a goodbye than a birthday celebration. Please don't get cranky about it. Think about it for a second: Your birthday now is just a reminder that all that's left are goodbyes. To be honest, I'm happy I finally did get this to you. I started writing this with the intention of kicking off my planned analyses of your solo career, and I was going to start with Rock 'n' Roll Animal since it is an essential Lou Reed album and I don't usually write about live albums. So I was going to just get that out of the way before starting in earnest.

But I'll save that for another day, Lou. I got carried away with talking to you directly, and I decided to just run with it.

Anyway, happy birthday again, Lou. I miss you. I know you're gone forever, mostly I'm OK with it. Life is happening, I'm still finding new ways to immerse myself in the rocks and the rolls, old and new, yours included. But every now and then I get a reminder that I'm never going to hear from Lou Reed again, and it does make my heart hurt. Just wanted to let you know.  

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