Fly in Peace, Lou Reed

When I first met the legendary (Little) Jimmy Scott, I told him how I first saw him singing with Lou Reed on the “Magic and Loss” tour the day the LA Riots began. I told him how I’d only listened to that album once because every time I’d try again, I’d start to cry uncontrollably. I asked him how Lou could sing a song like “Harry’s Circumcision” in such a detached almost comic way. Jimmy looked at me directly in the eye, put his hand on my knee and said, “He doesn’t feel those things like us.”

Thank goodness for that. Whatever it was that Lou had, and it definitely made him sound like a jerk sometimes, it led him unflinchingly to a truth. One of my favorite Elvis Costello lines is, “The truth can’t hurt you, it’s just like the dark. It scares you witless. But in time you’ll see things clear and stark.” It seems Lou had no fear of darkness. And his stark portraits created a huge space for the listener’s empathy.

Howie Klein gave me a compilation that Sire Records was using to promote the upcoming “New York” album that started off with “Dirty Blvd.” then kicked into a retrospective beginning with “Heroin” by the Velvets. I was obsessed with it. I’d had the Velvet Underground Andy Warhol record and knew it was supposed to be great, but I never got it until I heard it all in context. Lou was the anti-baby-boomer. He took all the confusion of that generation and handled it introspectively. But he also kept in touch with the streets and the music that could transcend, if not on this plane, but further out. When I think of Lou I hear (one of his heroes) Dion sing, “Fly, fly, fly away” at the end of “Dirty Boulevard.” It’s one of the grittiest descriptions of New York imaginable, but the hope is still there in both music and lyric. Lou showed us the grit, but in that sober portrait, the transcendent always seemed possible.

Fly in peace.

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