Lou Reed, Good Riddance


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.

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15 Responses to Lou Reed, Good Riddance

  1. Jimmy says:

    Nice read. I bet this post doesn’t want to win you any more friends 🙂

    I live your writing style of honesty and agree with you.

    Im amazed how these famous people can be honoured and respected because of a gift they’ve given to the world but destroyed people with their influencing behaviour.

  2. Suspended says:

    I agree with you, as usual, but I wouldn’t be so quick to write-off the consequences of young girls emulating people like Madonna (who was trashy/slutty but not all about exposed flesh, in the 80’s.) Compare that with today’s Rihanna’s and Miley’s, rump-shaking-nakedness and actually there’s a major problem for young girls who emulate this. It’s ok for these a-holes to spout on about not wanting to be role-models, shirking their responsibility, but the kids being influenced don’t have the highly paid security team to keep them safe on the street.

    I’ll round it off by saying Fuck you Lou, too. You’ve been a devil’s minion on the dark road to hell for so many. You conned kids into thinking that greater musical potential was available intravenously. If there is a price to pay for your earthly contribution, I sincerely hope you are paying it with interest!

  3. Bessie the Cow says:

    It’s sad when people can’t change their opinions when given a dose of reality, but cling to their believes because they have done so for so long. Love your article!

    I just watched Requiem for A Dream last night, and it disturbed me on so many levels. I couldn’t sleep. Street drugs, prescription drugs. We are a culture of drugs. Lou Reed was a tool (of the system). Just a small player in reality. He wasn’t rallying against the system but for it, and I wonder if he knew it? Pathetic if truth be told. How many smart kids, who were unhappy in an unhappy world, became drug users instead of philosophers, revolutionaries, writers, musicians, artists because of false gods like Reed?

    If you keep the population hypnotized, addicted, impotent they can not buck the system, only be part of it, and propagate it.

  4. Will Divide says:

    I never forgave him for “Metal Machine Music”; a dyed-in-the-wool, self-important jerk.

  5. ali says:

    My first encounter with true stories of heroin addiction was in early high school (anthony kiedis’ “auto” biography). His stories scared the living crap out of me – enough scare me about cocaine in high school (tough to stay away from that stuff in latin america) . Anthony Kiedis is a total dickhead … but at least he spared no language in describing what heroin did to him and what he became.

    I’ve had a few other encounters with heroin usage since then, but up until 5 months ago I lived with a heroin addict for a year and a half – and boy was that the most terrifying thing…… constant vigilance necessary.

    I’m not a stranger to addiction myself so I can understand making excuses to transcend deep shame. Unfortunately, success, talent and industry “yes men” are the perfect system for justification.

    I can also understand making art about something that you are literally addicted to. Unfortunately, Lou happened to be famous. He happened to need an excuse and excuse himself to the world. It’s grand scale manipulation.

    I just wish “cool’ didn’t exist. but human beings are stupid animals (mostly).

    All I know is “I am set free” makes my heart soar ….and heroin chic is utterly stupid. I would rather two kids not overdose than have a lou reed – and if lou reed never existed, I couldn’t feel the loss. But thinking about lou reed-less music history makes me sad.

  6. ali says:

    *I didn’t mean to make it sound like kids who look up to lou reed are/were stupid…. just been thinking a lot about “cool”, survival of the fittest and pack mentality.

    “Cool” is destructive. but trying to be cool is survival. Emulating someone you look up to isn’t STUPID.

    hell, I look up to you and I think you’re cool so I started a tumblr. best decision!

    think I am rambling….

    My main point is that, sure, to hell with lou reed. Still makes me a little sad tho.

  7. David Duff says:

    I discovered Mr. Reed on the 18th November 2011. I know that to be accurate because I blogged on the subject:

    Actually, I only liked one of his songs – ‘Walk on the Wild Side’ – even if the lyrics are witless, the arrangement and the deep tone of his voice are very striking – once heard, difficult to forget.

  8. Just Ann says:

    As someone who watched her father (who was younger than Lou Reed was when Lou got his new liver) die while waiting for a transplant, it pisses me off when we see old celebrities who famously, publicly abused their organs, then went to the front of the list for a transplant. Problem is: If someone designates their liver to go to a particular person, that’s where it’s going. List doesn’t count. Age doesn’t count. The famous are more likely to have people put them down as a designee should they die before that person gets the organ they need, if they match. And, body’s reject the transplants often, even when it’s a match.

    The rest of the vitriol directed at Lou Reed is your choice. Lou Reed wrote about the experiences he knew. For the last 40 years of his life, he was publicly not a junkie and spoke openly about it. I don’t know how I would have turned out if I had been raised in New York with my parents trying everything they could (including electroshock therapy) to try to kill bisexual urges. I’ve not walked in those shoes, so I’m not going to judge a past that cannot be changed.

    I idolized many musicians over the years. I haven’t felt the need to try to live like one of them. I don’t get that mentality either, so I’m not going to judge the people who feel so bereft of original personality that they feel they must adopt some celebrity’s habits in search of some borrowed cool. That’s sad.

  9. Andra says:

    I’ve only vaguely heard of Lou Reed and I have no interest in him or his music.
    It’s all very dreary and boring.
    He’s no loss.

  10. Jenny says:

    I couldn’t agree more!

  11. Sister Wolf says:

    Suspended – You are the wind beneath my sails or however that expression goes

    Bessie the Cow – I hate that film more than I can say.

    Will – THANK YOU!

    ALi – Set Free is a gorgeous song. It is so wonderful, but I give credit to Sterling Morrison for that guitar solo.

    Just Ann – Why is it that whenever I express anger or contempt, people complain about my “vitriol??” That word cancels out whatever points you are trying to make.

    Andra – Haha, you big silly.

  12. Sister Wolf says:

    Jenny – Yay!

    David – Okay, I just read your Lou Reed post. That is so adorable, I can’t even argue with you. The fact that you are so open to new music that is out of your “comfort zone” is extremely gratifying. For example, I am too old to start liking anything I missed in the 70s, and waaaaaaay to old to appreciate rap.

    Andra is right about Lou Rawls though.

  13. Marky says:

    One of your best posts. Thank you.

  14. Karl says:

    ho, hum. Hamsters gonna hamster. Young nubile, fertile females love badboys. Really shocking to us nice guys – we end up in the friendzone. No action for us! Don’t deny it – who should we believe…. you? Or our lying eyes?

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