Lou Reed
Lou Reed

Reliving life's soundtrack with fine, fine Lou Reed

IT HAS been two weeks since Lou Reed died.

His wife Laurie Anderson said he faded away while staring into the garden at his New York home.

Every music critic, friend, confidant and hanger-on has either told their story or are saving their insights for a sprawling tell-all book on the rock n roll legend.

My friends and I started listening to his music decades after his peak - to us he was just some singer we liked.

By the time I really took notice of Lou Reed as the lead singer in Velvet Underground, I was in my mid 20s and it was 2005 and I lived in Brisbane.

There was no hype and Dylan-style indie cred that came with being a fan of Lou.

He was just another singer from the before-times - lumped in with David Bowie, Mick Jagger or Neil Young.

It was really only Craig - my oldest friend - who shared my fan-boy fawning for Lou.

Craig pointed me towards a homage to Lou by the Dandy Warhols, favourite band of his. They called it Lou Weed.

I sent him a version of Temptation Inside Your Heart,  which included Lou laughing as he told people to get out of the studio during recording.

I left Brisbane a couple of years later before starting my final semester in journalism.

I left to forge a path in Mackay. It was where I grew up and it was now that Lou became a regular companion.

Rock n Roll reminded me of my teenage yearning for city lights

Then one fine morning, she put on a New York station
and she couldn't believe what she heard at all
She started dancing to that fine-fine music
ahh, her life was saved by rock 'n' roll

There was Venus in Furs,  from when he was in the Velvet Underground - so decadent and bizarre it would send your head spinning off your neck.

Craig liked these, but Velvet's song I'm Waiting for the Man , a tale of an addict heading up-town to score heroin, struck a chord with him.The honesty of it, maybe. In the opening verse, Lou sings:

I'm waiting for my man
Got 26 dollars in my hand
Up to Lexington 125
feelin' sick and dirty
for a day and a life
Huh, I'm waiting for my man.

On a holiday to the US, Craig ended up in New York City, trekking towards an address we always assumed was made up.

He found it - a neighbourhood maybe as rough as it was in the 1960s. He stood on the footpath, probably feeling a touch vulnerable, as Black Panthers marched past in procession.

In another case of embarrassing adoration, I headed to Brisbane's Museum of Modern Art for an Andy Warhol exhibition. Warhol was an inspiration and "producer" for Lou and the Velvets.

In a feat of daring, I broke the no photography rule so I could snap a blurry souvenir of the original hand-written lyrics and music for Lou's song Heroin

This was Lou to us.

His music was a journal discovered for two plain-looking middle-class Aussie kids.

It was full of grubby details and candid moments of a life we could barely imagine.

And musically, to play his songs was to drink from the source. You were hearing the guy who inspired music you loved long before you were even born.

His lyrics - especially to me, an aspiring and now paid writer - push the listener to strike out, test the edge and try for something new.

It was catchy and packed with subtlety and nuance. It sounds simple but remains impossible to copy.

After his death, breakfast television hosts paid hollow tributes to Lou and played Walk on the Wild Side on repeat.

Even in death he pushed the envelope.

How else do you get a song about prostitution and drug-abuse and explicit sex on television before 9am?

I bet that gave him a hell of a chuckle from his new skanky alleyway in the sky.

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