This is my second post in a row dealing with the passing of one of my heroes. I must be getting to that age. But I remember when I first heard the Velvet Underground churning their way through ‘Waiting for the Man’, a song about scoring heroin on the streets of New York. Nothing romantic about it, just waiting for a dealer who was never early, always late, in a place where you didn’t belong. I loved the low-fi attack, the monotone vocal, the simple, chunking chords, the lack of a guitar solo. It was dark and powerful and refreshing because it was so counter to the psychedelic confection the record companies were putting out, the dishonest fluff we were listening to. While we thought we might be part of something that didn’t exist.
The Velvet Underground weren’t pretending at peace and love.
‘Waiting for the Man’ came right after ‘Sunday Morning’, a pretty, sad little song, on an album that dealt with drugs, taboo sexuality, loneliness, the other side of life. The Velvets had more than one way of saying the things our parents didn’t want us to hear. Their thumping dirges drove a battered poetry deep into our ears, words we would take with us until we found our own voices. More than hypnotic, the Velvets put into words the thoughts that were brewing in our heads. Even if we didn’t quite understand them at the time. And because we didn’t quite understand them.
Lou Reed was the voice we heard on that record, whose world-weary snarl emanated from the electroshock his parents subjected him to in order to ‘cure’ him of his bisexuality. Yes, there was Nico as well, channeling a damaged Marlene Dietrich, but the Velvet Underground was really about Lou Reed. He wrote almost all of that album, a lot of it when he was fifteen. He didn’t run scared like he was supposed to; he came back and yelled—well, droned—about how it was for a lot of kids in the 60s and 70s.
More than a few us of us went on our own dark journeys in those days. Some of us didn’t make it.
But Lou Reed made it. Long enough to put a stamp on our sullen rebellion.
Long enough to be called a survivor.
And don’t his songs stand the test of time?
Somewhere, right now, there’s a bunch of kids doing things they shouldn’t be doing and screwing things up royally, but they have a voice. They just don’t know it yet.
Maybe they’ll find it before it’s too late.
Like Lou Reed helped me find mine.
I suspect Lou Reed lived longer than he deserved to.
But he still seemed to leave too soon.
Maybe he just slipped off somewhere, and is waiting for the man.