The beautiful thing about someone like Lou Reed…

By Writer, Comedian, Actor, Improviser, and doer of other cool things,

Jonny Sparkles,

“I was interested in subject matter that hadn’t been covered in pop and rock. I had dreams of writing certain kinds of things. I was influenced by Burroughs and Ginsberg. Raymond Chandler and Hubert Selby. I thought, ‘That’s what I want to do, except with a drum and guitar.’” — Lou Reed


It was so vivid. So clear. So evident. I could picture it as I went to sleep last night. Perhaps the most coherent thought I had all weekend. I’ve never even been to New York City, but for a brief moment, I felt myself there, walking down a quiet, dimly lit street. Passing abandoned newsstands and homeless people comfortably sleeping. Everyone I pass is peaceful, but no one is smiling. It’s beautiful, yet somber. Countless people in beanies smoke cigarettes as we knowingly glance at each other. We all have our headphones on. We’re all listening to “Walk On the Wild Side”. We’re all listening to “Satellite of Love”. We’re all listening to “Here She Comes Now”. We’re all listening to “Sweet Jane”. We’re all listening to “Perfect Day”. We’re all on “Heroin”. We’re all missing one of the most important and misunderstood artists in the history of rock, Lou Reed, who died Sunday at the age of 71. New York has lost another giant piece of its landscape and music has lost one of its essential folk heroes and distinct voices and faces.

I am not going to pretend that I was a huge fan of Reed’s. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a fan, but compared to what many of my friends, colleagues and other heroes know about him, I must admit that my knowledge pales in comparison. But I always admired him. His most famous song, “Walk On the Wild Side”, has always been special to me. It’s simply one of those rare tunes that takes me to another place. It’s more than just a song. It’s a transporter. Even before my musical tastes were anything close to decent, I always knew that song had it all. It made me feel like I was traveling to New York and hanging out with cool people. The kind of cool people who weren’t like the cool people where I came from. And that beat. The song has it all. It’s a soul song. It’s a rock song. It’s a funk song. That might help explain why so many rap artists have rhymed over it, through the years.

Mr. Reed worked and hung with everyone from Bowie to Warhol. The Gorillaz to Metallica. And influenced countless more. Brian Eno famously said that the Velvet Underground’s first album only sold 30,000 copies, but that every person who bought it, ended up starting their own band. This has always made perfect sense to me. Lou Reed excelled in making exactly the kind of music that only true artists and music obsessives could recognize as brilliant. The term “avant garde” gets thrown around a lot, but it’s probably a lot more easily explained. If you’re not into things like poetry and art, a lot of his catalog may be lost on you. Scoff at this notion if you must, but keep in mind how few of your friends share your appreciation for his work. Reed himself made fun of the very critics who seemed to relish not “getting” what he was producing. I’ll even admit that I don’t get everything that he put out. Some of it was lost on me, too. And it was that risk taking and mystery that made him that much more interesting to me.

My first exposure to Lou beyond hearing “Wild Side” on the radio and an occasional VU song here and there, was watching his challenging appearances on 120 Minutes, a wonderful show on MTV that played tons of stuff that you would never otherwise see on MTV. He seemed as excited to talk about music as he was grumpy to be there and I found it charming. I felt like he was a big fan of integrity and believed in only giving credit to those who truly deserved it. I can’t really argue with those traits. I would highly recommend watching the American Masters documentary Rock and Roll Heart, to find out more about what made the man tic and why so many great artists consider him to be a genius and one of the greatest poets of his time. Nothing I could write here will leave you with a greater impression than watching that will.

I’ll close this by saying that the music world feels a lot colder today, but there is always hope. The radio may largely ignore artists and poets in this day and age, but I assure you that a lot of individuals are still making breathtaking, one of a kind music out there. Search for it and you will find parts of yourself that you may have forgotten about. Lou Reed may have been the most famous underground artist of all time. But there are scores of his followers waiting for you to unearth them. We may not ever have another exactly like Lou, but I’m sure he would want you to discover some of his contemporaries and give them their just due, even if he never quite received his. Not in a grand sense anyway. The beautiful thing about someone like Lou Reed, though, is that it seems like all the people who were born to be touched by him, indeed got to experience his magic.

Now I’m out there on the street and looking forward and smiling and remembering him. And I’m listening to “What’s Good”. I recommend you do the same. It’s my personal eulogy to him, written by the man himself:

“What good are these thoughts that I’m thinking? It must be better not to be thinking at all A Styrofoam lover with emotions of concrete No, not much, not much at all…

What’s good? Life’s good What’s good? Life’s good, but not fair at all”

Thank you, Mr. Reed.

And now, a few thoughts about the man from some of my favorite people:

@mitdasein – “Lou Reed may be my saddest non-suicide celebrity death.”

@Billy (Corgan) – “Saddened by the news of the passing of Lou Reed. Always so kind and sweet to me in the times we met. A true artist and visionary.

Mike Ness – “I grew up with Lou Reed’s music. I had his records when kids my age were still listening to Elton John. I’m sorry to see him go.”

Morrissey – “No words to express the sadness at the death of Lou Reed. He had been there all my life. He will always be pressed to my heart.”

@stevendrozd – “My all time favorite Lou Reed moment is the second verse of ‘Sunday Morning’, when his voice gets washed in reverb. RIP Lou.”

@mshowalter – “To this day his music has not lost one ounce of edge.”

@TheRichardLewis – “Lou Reed, my friend, a genius who transcended Rock. My condolences to his family. A poet first, he performed like a hit-man on a mission.”

@marcmaron – “He made it gritty and beautiful for everyone. #genius”

@GregProops – “Lou Reed reads the universe poetry.”

@ThatKevinSmith – “an un-Perfect Day”

Also a final special thanks to Michael C. Hall of Comedy Hawaii for asking me and inspiring me to write this. Here’s something great that he wrote about Lou Reed’s passing:

“Less and less in this ‘brave new world’ do we find true antiheroes, people who give the middle finger to the mainstream and who are willing to go to the depths of human experiences, places you or I might be afraid to go, and bring back raw beauty in all its unfettered ugliness. A voice for the suicidal addict that is as majestic and inspiring as angels’ songs.”

-Jonny Sparkles

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