I think the greatest artists are those who go beyond their culture, they question it and they put it in jeopardy. Lou Reed fits the profile: his career is a constant research, a way to push the envelope, to challenge society and common sense. Thanks to Lou Reed, I learnt that popular music is not just music, something you listen to because it gives thrills and emotions, but it’s Art, something that can change culture and the way people conceive music itself. On the 27th of October 2013, I was shocked when I found out that Lou Reed left us, but I had the strong feeling he was still alive. Not only because of the illusion of endless presence given by recorded media, but because the man, his works, his intuitions are still expanding in the music world, mixing with other ideas, and influencing generations of musicians.
Lou Reed cherished music lovers with classic albums like TRANSFORMER (1972) and BERLIN (1973), but he also astonished and split them experimenting on controversial works like METAL MACHINE MUSIC (1975), an album filled with noise, distortions and cacophony. He showed his maturity in the masterpiece NEW YORK (1989), where the Big Apple appears in a series of pictures spanning from country music, to boogie, folk, jazz, gospel and rock. But his work with legendary band The Velvet Underground was even more radical.
In THE VELVET UNDERGROUND & NICO (1967) and WHITE LIGHT / WHITE HEAT (1967), with the help of John Cale and Maureen Tucker he changed Twentieth Century’s music forever. Reed and his colleagues changed not only music, but the concept of music itself, violently disrupting the border between sound and noise, challenging the limits of human ear.
They played free-jazz, raga, mantra, oriental scales, rhythms of Native Americans and Africans, they anticipated genres like metal, industrial and gothic rock. Even today, tracks like European Son and Sister Ray are hymns to anarchy and freedom, they literally destroy decades of establishment in popular music, questioning melody, star-system, values, everything we take for granted when we press “play” on an old record player or an iPod. Lou Reed the poet also changed the world of lyrics, the themes usually used in popular music. He talked about his New York without veils, he talked about drug, sex, violence, perversions, everything Western World tried to hide, and he was considered dangerous, Decadent, even malevolent, while his Luciferian voice challenged the rules of singing.
That’s why, when his body left this world, I thought he was still there, in New York, on the street, hiding with a cigarette behind the malodorous vapour of a drain. A devil, an innovator, a junkie, a professor, a legend above the other rock legends. His friend, producer and collaborator David Bowie said: “He was a master”. Damn, he was. A fuckin’ god.