Falling in Love to Lou Reed
On the the day Lou Reed passed away in 2013, my Facebook timeline was filled with updates by friends expressing their affliction for an artist who was held in their utmost regard. I scrolled through recollections of favorite songs, first concerts, times Lou was seen crossing the street or holding the door open at an East Village bodega, intimate times shared with him on a stage or preparing for a photoshoot, and my favorite, the time he lit a friend’s cigarette then kept walking. I read each blurb with fascination and slight jealousy that after 6 years of living in New York City, and being absolutely enamored with the musical and poetic history of the East Village, I did not have an “I saw Lou Reed today” story.
I also did not have a cool introduction to Lou Reed’s music. Something dreamy and artsy like walking into a record store as a child and insisting my father buy me that record with the banana on the cover. I do, however, remember the first time I heard Lou Reed. It was 1992 in a suburb of Los Angeles where I spent hours in my bedroom listening to the radio. One afternoon a program came on where the DJ played contemporary songs followed by the songs they were sampled from. Marky Mark and the Funky Bunch’s song “Wildside” came on. I definitely knew that song since it was a hit on the radio and MTV played it a lot too. But I never liked it. I was 14 and I didn’t understand why anyone would make a song about so many bad things happening. Immediately following “Wildside,” the DJ played Lou Reed’s “Walk on the Wildside.” I listened and, honestly, it made no sense to me — “she never lost her head/even when she was giving head.” Rhyming head with head was just lazy writing. I was especially shocked by line “and the colored girls go..” Is this why Marky Mark had to re-write* and re-sing this song? (*Marky Mark did not write “Wildside.”) Because of that line? Oh, the thought process of a 14 year old mind.
In 1998, I was living in Hollywood and met a man 10 years older than me at a bar. He was a musician and we dated for a while and spent a lot of time in Hollywood bars. We drank whiskey and made each other laugh talking to each other in silly voices and making funny faces from across the room. One night we sat in 3 Clubs and “Walk on the Wildside” came on overhead. I told him the story about how shocked I was when I first heard the song at 14 and he teased and asked if I now understood what the lyrics that puzzled me then meant. I laughed nervously and said yes, of course I do, though I felt silly and nervous because I didn’t really know. I liked music a lot and was raised with a great knowledge of music from all genres, but I liked pop music and songs I could sing along too and lyrics I found inspiring. At that time I was beginning to write poetry, and listened to songwriters like Patti Smith, Ani Difranco, and Bob Dylan for inspiration. I told my date this and he reached into his pocket, pulled out a piece of paper and a pen, and wrote the following words:
VU — White Light/White Heat
Big Star — Third/Sister Lovers
He put the piece of paper in my hand and said, “listen to these. Listen to them all. You’re gonna like Big Star the best, but give Lou Reed a chance.”
The very next day after work, the young and impressionable me went straight to Aron’s Records and bought both of the CD’s he wrote down. He was right, I did like Big Star best and I told him so when I saw him next. We were at The Roost and after I told him, he stood up from the booth we were in and walked over to the jukebox at the back of the bar. I watched him as he stood flipping through pages of songs with one hand, a cigarette in the other. He walked back towards me as, “Sunday Morning/Praise the dawning/It’s just a restless feeling/by my side” sang from the speakers. “What is this?” I asked when he sat down beside me. “VU” he said. “THIS is Lou Reed?” I questioned. “Shhh. Listen.” He said. “It’s so different from what,” I started. “SHHH.” He commanded and gently squeezed my thigh. We sat in that booth all night as songs played — “There She Goes” “Heroin” “Pale Blue Eyes” — laughing and singing the wrong words along to “Run Run Run”. In one night I got a crash course in the Velvet Underground and fell deeper in love with this older man. We sat quietly looking at each other and holding hands as “I’ll Be Your Mirror” played overhead. This, right here, is how someone who loves someone else feels, right?
Lou Reed never bumped in to me walking out of a bodega, and he never lit my cigarette, he never walked by me wearing black sunglasses and heavy coat in the dead of a New York winter. But I did get to fall in love for the first time while listing to his songs. It’s not the kind of story I tell while reminiscing with friends late night at a bar, but it’s a story I think about every time I hear his voice and it makes me smile.