The Velvet Underground were the band that gave credence to the term ‘ahead of their time’ and elevated it from a mere platitude to a universal truth. When the world finally caught up to them, they had gone their separate ways and Lou Reed was an enigmatic solo act rubbing shoulders with the most creative coterie of the era.
As Brian Eno once said, in the now ubiquitous quote: “I was talking to Lou Reed the other day, and he said that the first Velvet Underground record sold only 30,000 copies in its first five years. Yet, that was an enormously important record for so many people. I think everyone who bought one of those 30,000 copies started a band!” The only thing that you might like to add is that now those records are viewed as bona fide classics, they haven’t lost any of that influential appeal.
Nick Cave was one such artist compelled to start a band when he was walloped by the Promethean pelt of the Velvet Underground’s weird and wonderful ways. “He taught me that you can put the most sonically aggressive music and put it side by side by some of the most beautiful ballads that anyone has ever written,” Cave said upon the passing of Reed back in 2013 in an interview with Channel 4.
“There was something that Lou started when he did his stuff,” he adds, “Which was that kind of punk ethic that he still held true to himself until the end.” This, in truth, is somewhat of an understatement, Reed remained as nettlesome as any Rockstar throughout his career.
However, one essential element of punk attitude was the mantra put forth by his friend David Bowie, which he also championed: “Never play to the gallery. Always remember that the reason you initially started working was that there was something inside yourself that you felt that if you could manifest it in some way, you would understand more about yourself and how you coexist with the rest of society.”
It was this that Cave spoke of when he added, “He moved beautifully about and surprised people. He could do something very tender, something very thoughtful and then something that you had to rethink over again whether you liked Lou Reed again. His records were so polarising.” And never was a truer word spoken. Reed’s back catalogue is crammed with celebrated masterpieces, underrated gems and outings like Lulu with Metallica that should’ve been shot at birth.
However, it is in a eulogy long before Reed’s death that Nick Cave elucidated the brilliance in his idols writing and, in a way, illuminated a kinship between their work. “In Lou Reed’s remarkable song ‘Perfect Day’ he writes in near diary form the events that combine to make a perfect day,” Cave said in his lecture on love songs.
“It is a day that resonates with the bold beauty of love, where he and his lover sit in the park and drink Sangria, feed animals in the zoo, go to a movie show etc. But it is the lines that lurk darkly in the third verse, ‘I thought I was someone else, someone good’ that transforms this otherwise sentimental song into the masterpiece of melancholia that it is.”