Looking for an image to use on the blog about Richard Wilson’s Anti-Hero I came across something else I’d been looking for: an excuse to mark Lou Reed’s passing by sharing the video above, which is of probably my favourite recording ever (this week), the version of What Goes On to be found on the Velvet Underground Live 1969 album.
He refused the straight-forward, nice guy appeal, was honest and open and definitely changed his mind several times in dramatic fashion. (Although never about the power of the E to A chord change, thankfully.) I suspect he did not so much accept uncertainty as move from one certainty to another, and journalists have questioned his empathy, but then what matters, is, say, the feeling in a song like ‘Pale Blue Eyes’ or ‘I’m Set Free’.
The best of his work embraces mystery and beauty, as well as howling, ugliness and, most powerfully perhaps, a kind of plainness. (Although I love Transformer and Berlin, I am very much a Velvets man, and would see Lou Reed as evidence or my theory that people are generally geniuses only for a few years. A theory coincidentally reinforced by my reading of Morrissey’s autobiography, but that’ another story.)
The sleeve notes to the Live 1969, which I’ve read so many times since I was a teenager wrapped up in books and that rhythm guitar, talk about the disturbing effect of Reed’s songs but also of a future in which Rock and Roll will be studied. It’s here now. The great testament to the music is it still sounds dangerous, and, to my ears, as powerful and beautiful as ever.
(And that my son, Lou, felt the same at Reed’s passing suggests likewise.)