This past week the Village Voice published a wonderful essay on Lou Reed. Peter Gerstenzang zeroed in on the import of Lou Reed’s songwriting, calling him “Bob’s equal,” the Bob being, of course, Mr. Dylan.
Even knowing there was a cat around named Bob Dylan, who often gets the credit for marrying poetry and mature ideas to Rock and Roll, Lou Reed, who died from the results of liver disease, is, I believe, every bit Bob’s equal. Unquestionably as important, possibly more influential. Although there’s some similarity in their backgrounds (they’re both real rockers who listened to Little Richard before they ever read Rimbaud), Lou did things differently than Dylan. Where Bob introduced surrealism and symbolism into our music, Lou Reed did the same for realism. Perhaps, more accurately, photorealism.
Sure, Dylan told us about the mystery tramp, Queen Jane, that ghostly Johanna, people who lived in our dreams. Reed, no matter where he grew up or who he studied with, told us about people who lived in New Yawk. In 1964 or so, with Dylan delighting in “majestic bells of bolts” and tambourine men, Lou was writing, in complex, but no uncertain terms, about the kind of people who couldn’t resist the siren’s song, the supremely majestic feeling of shooting smack. Or speed. No code words, no metaphors, no clever substitutions. And, without any obvious moralizing, how when these drugs turned on you, you just wished you were dead.
For the rest of this insightful essay, head over to the Village Voice.