I WAS PROUD OF LOU REED. Some Jewish kid from Freeport redefines rock ‘n’ roll. A real, “What the?” Because, believe me, Freeport, Long Island, isn’t the most rock ‘n’ roll place. None of Long Island is very rock ‘n’ roll. Rock ‘n’ roll came up from the south via the Mississippi, hit Chicago and then somehow meandered over to the industrial cities of Great Britain after the war, before it began expanding into the soulless suburbs of the country’s largest metropolis. And that’s where it entangled Lou Reed.
Later, it entangled me. I bought The Best of the Velvet Underground: Words and Music of Lou Reed on cassette when I was 15 years old. At first, I struggled to understand it. I had always loved psychedelia and so expected the same kind of thing from a “Sixties Band.” But this was a different kind of sound, the sound of New York City. There were no rolling California hills and foggy harbors and fantastic trips here. There were dirty subways and old stone churches blackened with soot and generations of Bowery Bums.
In The Atlantic, they say that Lou Reed’s devil-may-care attitude toward the music business and embrace of realism made him a godfather for our generation, that the torch was passed to us, or that we are all the sons of Lou. This is only partly accurate. Lou was but one of many inspirational thinkers who forged the way we see things. A few others I can rattle off in an instant include Mel Brooks, George Carlin, and Richard Pryor.
What tied them together? They were all social critics who made entertainment seem important, and whose disregard for social convention made their careers. Mel Brooks is a filmmaker. Carlin and Pryor were comedians. Lou Reed was a rock ‘n’ roll musician. Movies, comedy, music — it was supposed to be harmless stuff. And yet their fresh, candid perspectives bypassed the new politics and new gadgets and went straight into the veins and brains of young people. It stuck.