Letter to Lou

I was twenty years old, watching a spring rain from the third floor window of a Baltimore brownstone, spacing out real hard. Aching for something new to feed my head, I was poking around in a box of tapes when I came upon the Velvet Underground. A friend had put Loaded on one side of a blank and Velvet Underground on the other. I popped it in and went back to the window. Nothing ever looked, or sounded, the same again. From there, VU led to Warhol, which led to Dennis Hopper, which led to Kerouac, which led to Coltrane, which led to John Zorn, which led to John Cage, and John Cale, which course… leads right back to Lou.

In Some Kinda Love, Lou Reed defines that undefinable moment, the one “between thought and expression.” Of the many poignant, defiant, violent and sublime ideas Lou has shared with us all, this was my personal thunderbolt. It speaks to patience and to the blinding white light of the “lifetimes” that pass through our fingers when we seek to create, to be great. And if nothing else, Lou tried to be great. Even when he was an hour late, as he was the time I saw him in the Knitting Factory in the ‘90s. He was no longer touring regularly, just picking and choosing select New York gigs. He eventually strutted out with his band, ripped through a 90 minute set of bone rattling, guitar rock fury, turned around and walked off without a word. Lou’s petulant effrontery, his sheer sense of cool, all jutting out there in a magical, proto-punk “fuck you,” to the city he loved and called home.

Even if he failed to hit the mark, as some of his more avant-garde projects did (The Raven, even Lulu, his recent collaboration with Metallica) everything Lou did had artistic intent and integrity. And truth be told, Lou could give a shit about the mark anyway. His later stuff proves it. As the musical world continued to spin this way and that, Lou was still rocking hard, spinning rich tapestries of language and experimenting with sound. Listen to the crunch and weirdo grunge of “The Proposition,” the twisted, sexy lilt of “Ecstasy” or the deep, desperate, depression of “Possum Day.” These songs were his epilogues, his culmination. And they are as stark and snarly as “Sister Ray” or “Heroin,” as tender and mournful as “Pale Blue Eyes” or “Candy Says” and as guttural and powerful as “Rock and Roll” or “Waiting for the Man.” Lou Reed never lost it, he just didn’t give a fuck if anybody gave a fuck. I always did.

I lost all my Lou Reed in the flood, including that old cassette. So tomorrow I’ll download a bunch (something he hated), binge out like a junkie and listen for weeks on end. And that’s my “fuck you,” to you, Lou. I’m gonna listen whether you like it or not. I need to be in that moment again, that lifetime between thought and expression. And nobody does that moment better than you.

drew moss

Drew Moss is an SAT/ACT specialist, college advisor, journalist and filmmaker. He guest lectures at Adelphi University and lives in Long Beach with his wife and children. See his work at http://drewmoss.com.