Martha Thomases: Sweet Lou
That’s what Lou Reed was to me. From the time his first album came out, he provided not only a soundtrack for my life, but a running commentary. His New York-inflected nasal vocals seemed to perfectly capture my own yearning for something I couldn’t define, but wanted desperately.
In the late 1960s and early 1970s, this made me unusual, especially in Ohio, where I lived. Lou had a hit in the mid-1970s, but there still weren’t a lot of people who would admit to liking him. I can only believe that people bought “Walk on the Wild Side” without acknowledging that they knew it was about drag queens.
He wrote about drag queens, and heroin, and despair. He also wrote about domestic violence, video games, and Doc Pomus. It didn’t matter. It felt like he was talking to me. It felt like he knew what mattered and who cared what anybody else thought. A valuable point of view now, but absolutely priceless to me when I was younger and even more insecure.
I’m not the only one. There were millions of us. Even though his sales never reflected it, he had millions of fans worldwide. He played for a pope. It’s possible to argue that he was part of the inspiration for the people’s revolution in Czechoslovakia.
It always seemed to me that Lou would like comics. Maybe he’d like Marvel superheroes, or maybe he’d just like cool, outré stuff like World War 3. He was in a comic as himself. And, according to Neil, he was an important inspiration to another.
Despite his reputation as a serious poet (or maybe because of it), he could also be hilariously funny. He was the reason I went to see what would turn out to be one of my favorite movies, Get Crazy where he played Auden, a singer-songwriter clearly satirizing Bob Dylan. If you don’t have time to watch the whole movie, you should still take ran minutes and look here.
(In our family, when we’re running, we sing, “We’re late for the show.”)
I only saw him perform a few times, not enough, and I never met him. If I had, I don’t think he would have liked me. He had a reputation for being mean to people he didn’t like. A woman I know who attended the dinner Neil describes above says he was vicious and dismissive to her and to the other woman at the table.
He didn’t have to sit for an interview with Punk. Lots of musicians less famous than he would have refused to talk to a couple of kids with no published clips. He didn’t have to perform at Farm Aid.
In “Sweet Jane,” one of my favorite songs, he sings,
“Anyone who ever had a heart
they wouldn’t turn around and hate it
anyone who ever played a part
they wouldn’t turn around and hate it.”
Thanks for the life and the work, Lou Reed. I’m glad I spent it with you.
SATURDAY: Marc Alan Fishman
SUNDAY: John Ostrander