Sunday, November 3, 2013

Songs for Sunday

Lou Reed – Strawman

Lou Reed – Pale Blue Eyes

It was the South Bank Show that first introduced me to the genius of Lou Reed. It was 1986 I think and I was in my final year at high school, still 16 but beginning to explore backwards into the history of rock; mostly prompted by reading interviews with R.E.M. where they were talking about their influences. Peter Buck was talking about the Velvet Underground and a song called Pale Blue Eyes that R.E.M. had done a cover of and I must have seen a trailer for the programme, so I got my parents to video it. 10.30pm on Sunday was too late to stay up and watch it live, even with the sparse and flexible timetable of Sixth Year Studies.

The documentary opened up a whole new era and cast of musicians to explore and resulted in the purchase of White Light/White Heat. Even though my musical tastes had long before expanded beyond a weekly diet of Top of the Pops to The Old Grey Whistle Test and later The Tube, it is safe to say that I hadn't experienced anything remotely close to The Velvet Underground. The documentary stayed with me for a long time, but I never got that into the Velvet's music – although there was plenty to enjoy it was always off-set by those tracks which seemed designed just to test the listener's patience. An extension of the attitude outlined by John Cale in his famous quote, 'The only reason we wore sunglasses onstage was because we couldn't stand the sight of the audience.'

My next real encounter with Lou came with his 1989 solo album New York, which got a lot of plays in the EUOC minibuses to events. His fifteenth solo album, he clearly made a lot of music between leaving the Velvets in 1970 and this album, but for some reason I didn't ever get to hear much of it. I liked New York, especially the furiously vitriolic Strawman, but there were plenty other bands and albums that I liked a lot more. Apart from New York and a handle of other songs it just seemed like the further away from he got from the late sixties the less relevant he became.

So, I hadn't really thought much about Lou for a long time, but last Sunday we were watching a documentary about Paul Kelly and Lou's name came up as another famous rock survivor who managed to get through the heroin addiction and live a fairly long and happy life (undoubtably helped by his marriage to Laurie Anderson). Then on Monday the news that he had died at home and all the endless media that accompanies the death of someone so iconic and influential. These two songs may not be his best known or well loved, but they are two that mean a lot to me and I think show what a fine and talented songwriter he was.

Song of the week: Suede – For the Strangers
Band/artist of the week: Moby

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