Two uncomfortable truths I’ve discovered this week: that Lou Reed is apparently one gnarly old arsehole and that you can never find a woman a strong arm and calm nerves when you need one.
Picking up the newspaper from virtual stoop this morning, I noticed that last night was the finale of ‘Britain’s Got Talent’. I’ve now done my background research on Youtube and watched the highlight of the evening as an imposter leapt to the front of the stage and pelted Simon Cowell with eggs. Unfortunately, the excitement of the moment seemed to have affected the poor girl’s aim. Months of throwing lead-filled coconuts clearly didn’t pay off as she repeatedly missed her target. However, as memorable moments go it was certainly one of the better things to come out of that buzzard of a show in a very long time.
It did get me thinking about Lou Reed. In an article this week, journalists reflected on the worst interviews they’ve ever conduction and Lou Reed, it seems, has something of a legendary reputation for being truculent, rude, and downright offensive to his interviewers. I’ve also read of instances when fans have approached him in coffee shops only to receive a snarl in exchange for their good wishes.
I’ve been a big Lou Reed fan for a very long time, though I’ve also had to dodge the odd egg he’s thrown my way. His recent album, ‘Lulu’, made with Metallica was brave, experimental, and unfortunately utterly unlistenable. In fact, in discovering his music, the only egg I’ve had to dodge that had a more stinking yolk was 1975’s double album (yes, double album) ‘Metal Machine Music’. I admit I’ve not heard the whole album but I defy anybody to get through the first part without needing to self-harm.
Now that Lou Reed has a new kidney, I sincerely hope it changes his attitude towards fans and journalists who have only ever wished him well. But if it doesn’t, then we’re hardly any worse off. Reed’s last truly great album was ‘Songs for Drella’ (1990) or ‘New York’ (1989) if we’re talking pure solo efforts. Since then, he’s spent twenty years exploring strange barren roads where his audiences have been reluctant to follow. I admire his dedication to his art even if I think there’s a sadistic streak to any artist who enjoys trying to out intellectualise (or out aestheticise) their listener.
Reed’s music has always trod a thin line between musicality and atonality. He found an absolute perfect place with ‘New York’, often boasting that nothing was better than guitar, bass, and drums, only to then head back off into the avant-garde. ‘The Raven’ even had a hurdy gurdy listed in the instrument, for Christsakes! Lou Reed acoustic would, of course, be the way to go. For a man so into Tai Chi, I would have thought he would understand the concept of minimalized effort for maximum result. Experimentation can be a kind of artistic impotence – indeed, it is often used when artists feel stuck and unproductive. I don’t personally hold the line that artists or their art must be difficult to be great but I do think that sometimes it helps fill in the gaps when the talent is lacking.
It helps in the way that our friend the egg thrower showed that if you can’t sing, write, dance, or otherwise perform, then you can still be artistic if you are simply spontaneous, liberated from the rules of the form, and indistinguishable from a wild-eyed lunatic. [Since I wrote that line, I've discovered that the egg thrower is a BAFTA-nominated viola player, which makes her actions even more impressive since they express something about the frustrations of true musicians in an age dedicated to superficiality.] Had I been voting for ‘Britain’s Got Talent’, the egg thrower would have got my vote [This is doubly true give the new revelation]. There was something crass about what she did but at the same time she revealed a more important truth about life than any of the bland acts that made the final. The same is true about Lou Reed, even at his difficult moments. He lives it how he sees it. I understand the vision and I think I understand the man even if I don’t think I would want to meet him.