That time when Lou Reed almost smiled…

By TBogg
Sunday, October 27, 2013 14:39 EDT
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Life’s good  … But not fair at all. – Lou Reed “What’s Good”

According to Rolling Stone, legendary musician and earthly malcontent Lou Reed passed away this morning:

With the Velvet Underground in the late Sixties, Reed fused street-level urgency with elements of European avant-garde music, marrying beauty and noise, while bringing a whole new lyrical honesty to rock & roll poetry. As a restlessly inventive solo artist, from the Seventies into the 2010s, he was chameleonic, thorny and unpredictable, challenging his fans at every turn. Glam, punk and alternative rock are all unthinkable without his revelatory example. “One chord is fine,” he once said, alluding to his bare-bones guitar style. “Two chords are pushing it. Three chords and you’re into jazz.”

I last had the opportunity to see Reed when he toured promoting Magic and Loss and it was gorgeous and raw and sad and uplifting all at once. I remember leaving the theater profoundly moved and deeply unsettled like I had just received some unexpectedly tragic news about a close friend even though I  already knew by heart the subject matter of the album  going in.

This is an album about death — and how to live with it. It is an eyewitness account, documented in compelling song, of a losing battle with cancer, the mourning after and the little miracles that, for the mourner, mark the beginning of the healing process. It will probably bum you out the first couple of times through.

But it’s worth your perseverance, because Magic and Loss is Lou Reed’s most affecting, emotionally direct solo work since The Blue Mask, a stunning consummation of that album’s naked guitar clamor, the hushed-chapel intimacy of the third Velvet Underground album and the barbed reportorial vitality of Reed’s best songwriting. He offers no great moral revelations and no happy ever after, just big questions and some basic horse sense. “There’s a bit of magic in everything,” he sings at the very end of the record, “and then some loss to even things out.”

For me, the news this morning is hard to take. As Beth Orton once sang: ” This one’s gonna bruise”.


So I’ll leave you with my favorite clip of Reed, performing VU’s Candy Says with Antony Hegarty, which is worth watching not only for the contrast between Antony’s soaring contralto vocals and Reed’s rough and broken counterpoint, but also to see Reed almost smile at the end because even a grumpy old man like Lou Reed recognized perfection when he heard it.

[image of Lou Reed courtesy of ElFrenitico at flickr]

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