They are certified legends. And they also write for the Talkhouse. From a Talking Head to a hard rock icon, this week we’re highlighting archival pieces written by members of the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.
I was a bit in awe of Lou because of Magic and Loss. I thought that record was the most beautiful musical meditation on death I’d heard. I went to see him at Radio City when it came out, and he performed the album in sequence. I wept. It was spectacular. We met doing a radio show together in the early ’90s, and not long afterwards I ran into him backstage at the Bob Dylan 30th anniversary show at Madison Square Garden. Neither of us was married at the time, and he asked for my phone number. I think we both realized at the moment he asked that even a single date would have been a disaster. We were so, so different. I shrugged, and we laughed. I worked with him a few times after that — a songwriters-in-the-round show, radio shows, a festival in Brooklyn — and saw him at various events in the city over the years. He was always so sweet to me. He couldn’t have been more of a gentleman. I saw the other, difficult side of him in glimpses, but he just seemed like a really sensitive guy who hated pretension and who found it intolerable to compromise on anything that was important to him, whether it was the sound of his monitors or the meal he had ordered. I’ll always respect him. Magic and Loss, indeed.
— Rosanne Cash
It’s hard to imagine Lou Reed is gone. He invented punk rock with the Velvet Underground and noise with Metal Machine Music; forward-thinking and boundary-pushing instincts such as his only come very sporadically in art. What is even more unusual is the incredible songwriting and storytelling within his music. So many of his songs will be left as legacies to his rare talent as a songwriter. I’ll never forget the first time I heard the Velvet Underground’s self-titled record with “Pale Blue Eyes” and “Candy Says,” or the first time I curiously picked up a worn copy of Berlin at my local record store as a teenager. It’s heartbreaking to lose a figure who contributed so much, not only to the underground, but caused a wave of influence even in the mainstream. The entire world of music is different and braver because of him.
— Nika Danilova (Zola Jesus)
Lou Reed came to me through “Walk on the Wild Side” on classic rock radio and his frank talk-singing and storytelling has kept me enthralled throughout my lifetime of rock & roll fandom. He got there early and never left. When I was in high school I used to get stuck on songs. Really stuck, like playing the same song hundreds of times in a row. The song “Wild Child” from Lou Reed’s first solo record was one of these songs. I’d pretend to perform it. I loved the lyrics: “I was talking to Chuck in his Genghis Khan suit and his wizard’s hat…”. They spoke of a cooler world out there far beyond high school and grades and suburbs. He talked about specific people and places. I liked that. Lou seemed like a cool guy standing on the corner that had seen everything. I hadn’t seen much at all yet. Lou told me, a Minnesota teenager, that something more was out there. There was something else bigger, brighter, and more dangerous and in time I could go get it if I wanted. And yet this week, when he died, it struck me how he had so many tender songs in his vast catalogue alongside the feedback and the downtown sneer. Songs like “I Love You,” “Legendary Hearts,” “Perfect Day” are all beautiful, vulnerable, and human. Those are the songs I’ve been listening to this week. Thanks for the music, and thanks for being there for us, Lou.
— Craig Finn (the Hold Steady)
Somewhere around here I have a cassette tape and on it you’ll hear 19 year-old me interviewing Moe Tucker. It was for some shitty local rag and I had no business doing it. I was fresh from the suburbs and to me ‘the Velvet Underground’ was the “& Nico” record, Andy Warhol, and maybe something related to a completely wrong idea I had about ‘modern’ New York. I was playing some Velvet Underground tribute show and the organizers were launching this newspaper. That’s why the interview happened. Anyway, Moe was nice and in retrospect amazingly tolerant of incisive questions like, “So you worked with Andy Warhol?” I guess even then I knew I was out of my depth and really just…in the wrong role. Interviews and tribute shows weren’t how I related to that band. Maybe I had questions for her but these weren’t them, and I didn’t know how to ask the questions I did have. The band meant something to me that I couldn’t ever put a finger on until years later when I read that Lou Reed intended (as you can read all over the fucking place right now) to write the Great American Novel in record form. I don’t know how that reads to other people but it hit me like a well-aimed brick. Because he did it. And because it’s the best way of describing what he did. And the more you think about it the more incredible his accomplishment becomes. The beauty and complexity and dense fog of emotions so heavy that, whether you’re leaning towards ecstasy or agony, you end up crying — these are the characteristics that you find in the books that change you (I dunno what they were for you or like universally but for me the first one I think of is Kafka’s The Trial. I know that book chewed me up like it did only because I read it as I was discovering the Velvet Underground. Xanax and grapefruit, right?) The same characteristics are in his music. Lou Reed can do what a great book does but he can do it with the immediacy of music. His music found me out in the suburbs and woke me up and it wasn’t the only thing, but it has been one of the only things that’s stuck. I can lie on a floor stone cold sober and listen to his records, doing nothing else, and I am at the height of being. Now, same as when I was 15. Whatever else he’s been to the world, to me he’s meant this. And today I am truly feeling his loss.
— Jana Hunter (Lower Dens)
— Jon Langford (the Mekons)
Berlin changed my worldview and made me realize that anything I believe in is art, it’s not about what other people think.
— Courtney Love
My ninth grade English teacher, Susan Hull, saw me reading Creem magazine one day before class. A few days later she loaned me her copy of White Light/White Heat because she thought I might like to hear it. I am not much for believing in angels and stuff, but there you go.
— James McNew (Yo La Tengo)
I’ve been amazed at the outpouring of thoughts for Lou Reed. We always knew he was one of the greats, and seeing all the posts, Instagrams, and just hearing him talked about by everyone I ran into really confirmed it. He was committed to his art right til the end, an uncompromising dude. We were neighbors of sorts once he started spending time with Laurie, and it always knocked me out just to say hello to him. His music has meant so much to me, from my earliest days, and the threads that connected Lou and the Velvets to the art scene in their day felt very familiar to us in Sonic Youth. Art/Rock/Art, no denying. Sha-la-la, babe. As I said in my Instagram post: “Boom, just like that, it’s over.” I don’t think we ever stopped to realize how much we’d miss him…
— Lee Ranaldo (the Dust, Sonic Youth)
It was my first discovery of the Velvets, when all the CBGB bands namechecked their heroes, and I went looking — and I found Loaded and 1969: The Velvet Underground Live in the 8-track cutout bins of Grandpa’s Hardware store in Cahokia Mounds, Illinois. My first Lou show was at the Fox Theater in St. Louis, in 1977, where he opened the set with two songs, stopped and shouted something offstage, pointed to the monitors, and did a third song. Halfway through that song he stopped, pointed to the monitors again, and gestured for someone stage right to join him center stage. The monitor guy walked out, Lou pointed at the monitors again — turned and clocked the guy, kicked the monitors into the orchestra pit, and stormed offstage. That was the end of the show. OK, wow. I was 17, wide-eyed, wowed.
For 37 years I followed him, in many ways — not the least being his influence on my own trajectory in music.
The last time I saw Lou I complimented him on a searing version of a blues song and one of his new songs that he had just performed live here in NYC. His energy and performance had brought me to tears. He wore a beautiful leather jacket that he didn’t take off.
He hugged me, as he now did quite often; and he didn’t let go for a very long time.
To my favorite curmudgeon, grump, genius, icon, pal. We and I will miss you very, very much.
— Michael Stipe
Oh, if records were paintings… Wait a minute — I, for one, believe they are and somehow I’d like to believe that Lou Reed thought so too. So that made two of us, at least until yesterday. For are they not personal directive statements hung on a wall or part of a collection? Crafted with skill and intent and not always so easy to digest but comforting in their ability to connect with its audience. A beheld object with a pride in its ownership and a belief that its presence enriches our lives. Even as its creator moves on, the object remains and isn’t that what artists live for? Beauty to share, everlasting. It’s nice to think that Lou made things so well… Farewell.
— Kurt Wagner (Lambchop)