Valentine and VerminLou Reed coolThis week legendary musical curmudgeon Lou Reed died at the age of 71 following complications related to a liver transplant this past May. Within minutes of the initial announcement by Rolling Stone magazine the InstaFaceTwitterverse was abuzz with condolences and skepticism that it might possibly be a hoax. But after a few hours of confirmation and critical mass the news became ever too real. The King of Kool, the Dean of Dark, the Earl of Emo, had indeed died.

Then the totally predictable happened. Like a two-minute warning, the tsunami of haters went off the reservation. It became night of the living dread. “Who the fuck is Lou Reed?”, Lou Iggy“Who gives a shit?”, “What the fuck did he ever do?” Venom and bile and ignorant vitriol abounded. Tangentially, the uninitiated bandwagon-jumping  opportunists tried to ride the back of the bandwagon. Many were saddened to hear that ‘Mambo #5’ singer Lou Bega had died; some intrepid rat-a-preneur created a memorial T-shirt to Lou….with the image of Iggy Pop on it (which many suspect as being deliberately ironic). Still others offered condolences to actress Tara Reid on the loss of her grandfather (sigh).  Dear Lord, even The Pope tweeted lyrics to Reed’s “Perfect Day” – backfiring after it was pointed out that Lou’s lifestyle didn’t make him a model Catholic (really? Duh!). http://www.sltrib.com/sltrib/lifestyle/57057847-80/reed-ravasi-vatican-culture.html.csp

Lou-Reed_WantedWith the exception of maybe Arcade Fire, Miley Cyrus and Justin Bieber, I’ve never seen so many people deeply invested in a topic they claim to care nothing about. Even in death Lou Reed has managed to divide critics and supporters. How ironically meta.

The story is well worn. Reed was originally a crooner (!!!), https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lqEoTN4BGPQ  but Yearbookbecame unhappy in the corporate music world as a songwriter and recording artist for Pickwick and decided to “…give it all up for you, baby” by co-founding a truly anti-establishment aggravated response to the commercial music world with Welshman John Cale in New York City. Initially, they were in the Primitives, then The Warlocks (with the addition of Sterling Morrison) and then The Falling Spikes. After being introduced to the Michael Leigh penned pulp paperback ‘The Velvet Underground’ about the sexual subculture of the 1950s, the band adopted the name in late 1965.

With the late addition of Mo Tucker on drums, Andy Warhol soon became the band’s manager (as much as Warhol could VU_Warholmanage anything) sending the group out as backing band for his Exploding Plastic Inevitable cabaret art show and mind-altering fuster cluck. The group eventually landed a recording deal with MGM’s Verve label. Warhol then insisted the band team up with German singer Nico for their debut album in 1967 which featured what would become iconic Velvet Underground tropes: “Venus In Furs”, “I’m Waiting For the Man”, “Heroin”, and “I’ll Be Your Mirror” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=31g_4B9AkYs.

VU_NicoAfter parting with Warhol (and Nico by default), the band’s live shows became sonic assaults – with everyone playing louder, and distanced, from everyone else. Their evolution as distorted sound merchants began and noted in their 1968 follow-up album ‘White Light/White Heat’. Depending on the legend or mythology one chooses to believe, Reed and Cale became estranged musically and personally. Their personalities weren’t merely oil vs. water, they were dynamite vs. chainsaws. Cale was eased out of the band as The Velvet Underground began laying down tracks for their self-titled third album. Touring and recording continued into 1969 and 1970 with Cale’s replacement, Doug Yule.

LoadedMGM dumped the band and they moved to Atlantic Records’ budget label, Cotillion for album number four entitled ‘Loaded’. It proved to be one of their better efforts spawning the ‘hits’ “Sweet Jane” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WgUs7yWnDJ8 and “Rock and Roll”. Reed took a bow and the Velvet Underground carried on with Doug Yule pushing the horse behind the cart.

U2It’s estimated that the Velvet Underground sold around 30,000 albums during their tenure. But as has been repeated often by musical luminaries such as Brian Eno and David Bowie http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XT0T7TLuySI – everyone that bought those albums ran home and formed a band. The progeny of that influential sound would rear its bastardized head as an entire genre that most of us remember as College radio’s alternative rock scene.

transformerReed went solo and effectively carried on where Cale had refused to go: agitating, challenging and basically flicking the ear of the establishment with his uncompromising, uncomfortably in-your-face mirroring of modern hedonism, depravity, debauchery, sexuality and all manner of counter-culture behavior. Reed didn’t give a shit what anyone thought about his songs, his politics or his lifestyle. He was the Marlon Brando of Rock – even giving the middle finger to his record label, RCA, by delivering his contractually obligated final two albums as the double LP length atonal feedback loop known as ‘Metal Machine Music’. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3-Vy4VRRO30

Walk OnThe general populace is ignorant of any of this and only know Reed, if at all, as that guy who wrote the transgender bending cross-over hit “Walk On the Wildsidehttp://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4wNknGIKkoA. I, like many other musicians, delved a little deeper. When I joined/formed my second band Moving Targetz with Simon Bedford-James I was still craving new sounds, new influences. I had grown up on AM pop hits, punk and new wave. By the time Targetz sprang to life in 1983 the synth-pop revolution out of England was in full force. Simon was dipping his toe into early Spandau Ballet, Depeche Mode, OMD, Tears For Fears, Style Council and the darker, more brooding black-headed stepchild of synth – Goth. Killing Joke, Bauhaus and Joy Division were also on the turntable at Simon’s house. However, he never strayed far from the roots of rock: The Beatles, The Who, The Kinks, Bowie, Roxy Music and the more underground anti-commercial acts from the US like The New York Dolls, VU and Lou Reed. He introduced me to all of this without comment. I absorbed everything and formed my own bias.

WhitelightwhiteheatVU and Reed became favourites. We added “White Light/White Heat”, “Sweet Jane” and “Rock and Roll” to our band’s repertoire as well as solo tracks like “Walk On the Wildside”, “Coney Island Baby”, and nearly everything from the Bob Ezrin produced ‘Berlin’ album. Only “Rock and Roll” ever made it into our live set but it became a big part of our early set roster [listen to our Lo-Fit basement version from 1984 here:  www.youtube.com/watch?v=IwWLMUk41YY]. We became one of the forgotten alternative rock acts at College radio. Not so much influenced by Lou Reed but certainly inspired by him.

Lou fingerAnd maybe that’s the thing about artists like Leonard Cohen, Bob Dylan, Neil Young and Lou Reed. They chose a strong, individual and often contrary path to their own version of success. Some people gravitate towards it. Others, like the unbaptized, can only observe from the outside, scratch their asses and mule “WTF?”. Next time someone says “what did Lou Reed ever do for music?” tell them to Google Ahmet Ertegun, Peter Grant, and Consiliare – all from different musical disciplines. Lou Reed was like them. Pounding away behind the scenes slowly affecting the musical landscape without consciously being aware he was doing so. Lou Reed just was. He’s now part of the 20th Century musical DNA. Whether anyone likes it or not.

Send your CDs for review to this NEW address: Jaimie Vernon, 4003 Ellesmere Road, Toronto, ON M1C 1J3 CANADA


Jaimie’s column appears every Saturday.

Contact us at: dbawis@rogers.com

DBAWIS ButtonJaimie “Captain CanCon” Vernon has been president of the on again/off-again Bullseye Records of Canada since 1985. He wrote and published Great White Noise magazine in the ‘90s, has been a musician for 35 years, and recently discovered he’s been happily married for 17 of those years. He is also the author of the Canadian Pop Music Encyclopedia and a collection of his most popular ‘Don’t Believe A Word I Say’ columns called ‘Life’s A Canadian…BLOG’ both of which are available at Amazon.com or http://www.bullseyecanada.com

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