My memory of hearing the Velvet Underground for the first time is indelible in every detail. I had just moved to London and I was sixteen and up for anything. I was smoking hash with some guys I’d just met, sitting around stoned in their dark attic flat, when someone put on “Sister Ray.” I was transported to another dimension, thrilling and unspeakably depraved.
I loved the Velvet Underground. By the time Max was in high school, he loved them too.
But in the last 15 years, I have come to hate Lou Reed, so his death left me cold. Big deal, is my feeling; he wasted a liver that should have gone to someone younger. Expressing my antipathy to Lou Reed on Facebook brought me new enemies and inflamed old ones. I guess that’s what Facebook is all about.
The problem, for me, is that Lou Reed was a willing and eager role model for young musicians who admired his stance as a flagrant dope-loving junkie, whose love-songs to dope make Keith Richard look like a Catholic schoolgirl. For those drawn to the dark side, Lou was a formidable siren. He made heroin synonymous with coolness.
I know you can’t blame artists for the actions of their followers. Marilyn Manson was rightly annoyed when people blamed him for the Columbine shootings. Gangsta rap might offend you, but it doesn’t turn law-abiding kids into gangsters.
Still, young people are vulnerable. They are searching for an ‘identity’ as they struggle to break away from their parents’ dominion. And a rock star who glamorizes intravenous drug use is a real problem. The worst thing Madonna’s fans could do was to go around looking like a slut. And they did. But fucking Lou Reed has lured kids into hospitals, Hep C and early graves.
I wish he had wised up early and had cautioned people not to romanticize heroin. Even William Burroughs described addiction as a gruesome nightmare of endless need and decaying flesh. But not Lou. For the last ten years at least, Lou Reed has appeared all over the place, blathering drunkenly about how important he is, or how important his friends are. Just a few months ago, I heard him blabbing about his friends Marina Abramovich, Yoko, Anthony Hegarty (who he kept calling ‘Ant’) and on and on. He was an asshole.
Max didn’t live long enough to see what an asshole Lou Reed was. He learned that heroin was a rocky path without glamour or romance, but then it was too late.
Lou Reed didn’t persuade me to use a needle, but maybe if I’d been a boy with a guitar things would have been different. If I was god, I’d go back and erase Lou Reed. I would also make sure that people knew about depression in children, so it couldn’t go on unchecked. I would trade the entire musical output of Lou Reed for the two kids I met in rehab who died from an overdose.
Fuck you Lou, and the horse you rode in on.