And back at the Wilshire, Pedro sits there dreaming
He’s found a book on magic in a garbage can
He looks at the pictures and stares up at the cracked ceiling
“At the count of 3,” he says, “I hope I can disappear
and fly fly away…”
–Lou Reed, “Dirty Blvd.”, 1989
“Holy shit on stilts.” I was standing in the new release section of Musicland (R.I.P.), staring at the cover of Lou Reed’s New York, questioning my heterosexuality, and talking to myself. “Oh. My. God. That is the coolest-looking dude I have ever seen in my life. He makes Marlon Brando in The Wild One look like Tim Conway as Dorf.” Five Lou Reeds stood on a street corner, each facing a different direction. My eyes lingered and perved on the two most prominent. One was wearing a black leather duster, black t-shirt, and blue jeans, carefully lighting a cigarette, shielding it from the wind. The other was wearing a black sleeveless muscle shirt and leather pants, arms crossed, head slightly tilted, just daring you to take a step closer. Both of them were wearing dark sunglasses and neither gave a flying fuck what I thought. Clearly, I was going to get smoke in my face and a boot up my ass. And I was going to like it.
Needless to say, I made my purchase crackhead-style, ran to the car, and ripped the cellophane off that cassette like virgins on their honeymoon. Insert here. Lie back and enjoy it.
1989 flooded my car like the Hudson River. New York was all the news fit to sing: AIDS, the homeless, racial violence, child abuse, drugs, abortion, religious charlatans, crooked politicians, Oliver North, Rudy Giuliani, Morton Downey, Bernard Goetz, Kurt Waldheim, Jesse Jackson , the Klan, the Pope, the Statue of Bigotry, and the Dime Store Mystery of life. The lyrics fell over themselves like The Who in Cincinnati. It was like someone grabbed a soapbox, randomly tore a page from the Village Voice, and started reading aloud. It smelled like wet asphalt and piss. New York sounded like Lou Reed half-singing, half-reciting the news ticker at the bottom of your TV screen.
And almost 25 years later, it still does.
Prior to 1989, I was only tangentially familiar with Lou Reed. I knew the hits (Perfect Day, Walk On The Wild Side), but not much else. Sure, I’d heard The Velvet Underground. I remembered the (in)famous Honda Scooter commercial (“Hey…don’t settle for walkin’”). I didn’t live under a rock. I’d heard Lou Reed, but I hadn’t really listened. I knew his immediately recognizable voice; I just hadn’t felt the words. I wasn’t ready. But for a 22-year-old college student looking for something—anything–other than the 1989 vast moon landing wasteland of music, New York was manna from heaven.
I lived and breathed New York. I carried it in my shirt pocket and listened to it on every car trip, whether 1 mile or 150 miles. I listened to it in the shower. I learned to play air guitar to it. I charted the chords and memorized every syllable. When my cutting-edge Sony Walkman devoured and regurgitated my first copy, I died a little inside. In moments of tribulation and challenge, some find solace in their pocket-sized Gideon Bible. I found mine in Lou Reed’s New York.
And almost 25 years later, I still do.
It’s still on my iPod regular rotation playlist. I still stare at those five badass Lou Reeds on the cover. I remain in awe of its caustic and acidic grace. It has aged like the finest of reds. In the Lou Reed discography of priceless wine glasses and decanters, New York is the baby Jesus’ drinking cup.
Best of all, New York led me to Berlin, Coney Island Baby, and Magic And Loss. It was like being suddenly fitted with some sort of philosophical cochlear implant, Lou Reed roaring up on a Honda Elite and hitting me upside the head with a Hubert Selby novel. Praise Jesus! I could hear! Lou finally revealed what Candy Says. He told me the Trouble With Classicists. He pointed out the Sword Of Damocles hanging over my head. We had a Real Good Time Together, Doin’ The Things That We Want To. We Set The Twilight Reeling.
Until three weeks ago.
Lou Reed died on October 27, his last moments in the arms of his wife (Laurie Anderson), practicing his beloved t’ai chi, eyes wide open. How appropriate. It’s almost like God knows what He’s doing. The world’s most eloquent and insightful eulogy could never add to that level of beauty. At the count of 3, Lou Reed simply disappeared and flew away.
His passing leaves the world emptier, less poetic, and more likely to suffer fools. The cracked ceiling will increasingly rain paint and spread like spider veins. The ratio of disposable crap will go up exponentially.
But every once in a while, you find a book of magic in a garbage can.
Rest in peace, Lou.
Michael Franklin is the Media & Reserves Specialist at Western Kentucky University’s Visual & Performing Arts Library (VPAL). Michael is also a professional musician and sound engineer. He is currently recording his 6th CD with his best friends Screenlast 6.0 and Audacity Sourceforge. He thinks Iggy Pop is the greatest singer in the history of music. If you disagree, you’re wrong. You better ask somebody.
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