29 10 / 2013
For my 12th birthday, my parents got my a Sony CD player. Box shaped, it also came with dual tape players and a equalizer so I could control my sonic pleasures. Frankly, it looked like a droid from Stars Wars. Side note: 23 years later the thing still works.
Now that I had a CD player, I needed CDs. So my mom took me to Coconuts Music Store at the mall. I was very excited. I already owned more than a few cassettes, but CDs promised something different. Clearer sound. More streamlined way of listening to music. No more endless minutes spent trying to get back to the beginning of Kokomo by The Beach Boys off the Cocktail soundtrack(one of the few cassettes I wore down to the bone).
Wandering around that music store, I found myself overwhelmed with the sheer glut of music on hand. Lost in a jungle of genres; Gospel, Rock, Spoken Word, Country. What was a boy to do?
I grew up with siblings much older than myself. My sister is 13 years older than me and my brother is a solid 10. And while that leads to a childhood with two sets of parents, it can also help introduce a youngster to music he may not otherwise hear about on the playground.
My brother held the biggest influence over me. Growing up I was enamored with his Who and Led Zepplin posters, often falling asleep wondering who and what a Led Zepplin was. When he was off to school functions or at his after school job working in our dad’s tire store, I would steal his tapes and listen to the wails of Robert Plant, the Godzilla vs Mothra punches that were John Bonham’s beats, and the black magic of Jimmy Page. My ears and eyes were forever changed. I remember being utterly afraid of the cover photo of the Rolling Stone’s Tattoo You. But over time fear turned to fascination. These people, the musicians, artists, whoever is on that Tattoo You cover, were not the same people I saw at church. They were not, unlike myself, altar boys.
Born with an independent streak, I knew right there in Coconuts I wanted to form my own musical persona. My brother could have Led Zep, my sister could have her new wave bands, I was gonna set my own barometer for hip. I was gonna be a taste maker.
My first CD was jimmy Buffet’s Greatest Hits. Needless to say, I was off to a slow start.
From there my musical tastes fluctuated over the years, and with each new obsession, so did my wardrobe. I had the Raiders Starter jacket to go with my love of West Coast gangsta rap. Soon followed by Grunge and a closet full of flannel. High school was a rough patch, most of my classmates were into Dave Matthews Band, the aforementioned Jimmy Buffet, and this new hot band that was sweeping the nation, Hootie and the Blowfish(which, say what you will, Hold My Hand is a great song).
Like many people who grow up and try their hand at comedy, I rarely felt like I fit in. I had friends, for sure, but I always felt most comfortable in the pleasure of my own company(not just jerking off. Although…). I was always looking for a shape or identity. Who am I? - I often asked myself.
Brian Eno once said that only 1000 people bought that first Velvet Underground album back in 1967. But everybody who did went on to start a band. I’m certainly not the first person(nor will I be the last) to say that VU was as influential as the Beatles. If not more so. While The Beatles can be heard in almost every artist, across many genres, the Velvets probably had a greater impact on better bands. It’s not like everyone can write a Hey Jude or While My Guitar Gently Sleeps, but everybody can fuck with guitar tones, amp feedback, or write lyrics that maybe reveal life for what it really is: One long slog through the gutters and back alleys of your inner psyche. Or at least that’s what I took from them.
Lou Reed was a great songwriter. From Sunday Morning to Heroin to his later solo albums, few artists pushed more boundaries, more buttons, and gave less fucks than Lou. This was the guy I’d been searching for my entire short life. Somebody who said it was ok to have a shitty disposition. Gone were the Raiders jackets and flannels. I basically wore a lot of black in college cause that’s what Lou wore in countless album covers and press photos.
It’s hard to say what period of Lou’s music is my favorite. There are, of course, those four flawless VU records. For all of the talk about dissonance and drone, it’s the third album, simply called, The Velvet Underground that may be my favorite. Separated from John Cale and their amps and pedals(which were stolen from the airport), Lou and company crafted as beautiful a folk album as Dylan when he was boning Joan Baez and as lonely as the best Nick Drake suicide note. It may be the one and only time you could call something Lou Reed did as “pretty”.
After the VU broke up, Lou hooked up with better musicians, some that would go on to form Yes, and started to blaze his own trail of Rock and Roll. The Bowie-produced Transformer is still his best known work, with the instant classic Walk on the Wild Side, which Marky Mark went and made better! I’m kidding. Kind of.
Later in his career Lou produced an album inspired by the works of Edgar Allen Poe. The pairing was perfect. No two artists were able to look as deeply into the human soul than Poe and Lou. One song on the album that left it’s mark on me is “Who Am I?(Tripitena’s Song). In the song, a narrator ponders everything from the cosmos to the beauty of a women’s thighs. It has, on occasion, made me tear up. It is a powerful song.
Lou wrote many powerful songs. And now he’s gone. Way up to Mars as he once wrote. But death comes for all of us, sooner or later. Mars one day will be filled with parking cars, we are reminded. Lou Reed taught me to take it on in, everything life had to offer. The good with the bad. And that the ugly can be beautiful and vice versa. And man’s only true mission in life is to try and figure out who they are before it’s too late. Lou Reed was many people in his life time, contract songwriter, Factory superstar, junkie, homo, poet, but most importantly, he was always Lou Reed.
Here’s a link to that song, Who Am I?