Wednesday, November 6, 2013

U2.COM : 'Music Out Of Noise'

Bono has been remembering Lou Reed, for the new edition of Rolling Stone

'The world is noisier today, but not the kind of noise you want to turn up. The world of words is a little quiet and a good bit dumber, the world of music - just not as sharp… 
Lou Reed made music out of noise. The noise of the city. Big trucks clattering over potholes… the heavy breathing of subways…the rumble in the ground… the white noise of Wall St… the pink noise of the old Times Square. The winking neon of downtown, its massage and tattoo parlours, its bars and diners, the whores and hoardings that make up the life of the big city. 
New York City was to Lou Reed what Dublin was to James Joyce, the complete universe of his writing. He didn’t need to stray out of it for material, there was more than enough there for his love & his hate songs.  From Metal Machine Music to Coney Island Baby, from his work in the Velvet Underground to his work with Metallica, the city that he devoted his life to was his muse more than any other.  Until Laurie Anderson came into his life 20 years ago, you could be forgiven for thinking that Lou had no other love than the noise of New York City. Yes, he could wax long and lyrical about the noise he could make with his Fender Telecaster or of the sound of his Harley Davidson, but his favorite noise was the city that lived below him, around the corner from him, up the street from him. If he thought people could be stupid, he thought New Yorkers were the smartest of them. He liked Irish people too, so of all those orbiting his often quite shuttered world, U2 he let in a little sooner.   

We first hooked up on the Amnesty International Conspiracy of Hope tour in 1985. He would talk guitar sounds with Edge, motorcycle sounds with Larry, James Joyce with me and - maybe I’m remembering this wrong - relationships with Adam Clayton. On one occasion, in perfect Lou drawl, he described how annoyed he was for agreeing to lend one of his Harley Davidsons out to his girlfriend.  She had a small accident, damaging the low rider in ways that clearly upset him. I asked him how was his girlfriend after the accident?  He looked at me dryly and said, “Bono, you can replace the girlfriend”. 
His deadpan humour was easily misunderstood as rudeness and Lou delighted in that misunderstanding. For the purposes of the hotel register, his pseudonym at the time was Raymond Chandler. I asked him what he liked about the noir  genius of the detective story? “Biting humour and succinctness,” he replied. I asked him for an example: “'That blonde is about as beautiful as a split lip’. It doesn’t get better than that”. He laughed out loud.  
Lou exemplified the idea of art as the discovery of beauty in unexpected places. But like all tough nuts, the outer layer was a husk to protect a vulnerable kernel, as some of his greatest songs show. One of the most famous of them “Perfect Day”, is made even more perfect by being about a heroin addict walking through the park in the warm sun, completely separate from the problems that brought him his addiction. Only a junkie would recognize the routine of ice cream and other sweet things… most people would think it’s just a sweet song. It’s been sung by all manner of earnest voices, including mine and children’s choirs, since it was written in 1972. It never fails to give me some kind of extra ache as they sing the last line ‘You’re going to reap just what you sow’ oblivious of the icy chill suggested. 
Transformer was the album that turned me on when it was released in 1972. Myself and my best friend Guggi (who went on to perform in the Virgin Prunes with Gavin Friday and later became a painter) would sit for hours listening to these street stories, thinking we knew what it was to walk on the wild side. We were 12 and 13.  
Transformation is at the heart of Lou Reed’s best work: people’s ability or inability to transform. We know that turning pain into beauty is the mark of a great artist and we understand defiance is at the heart of romance, but we are mystified by how Lou Reed’s songs are so airborne. Helium filled metal balloons, never weighed down by their subject matter, humour always around the corner from vitriol. Magic and Loss indeed. Lou Reed was an alchemist, turning bass metals into gold, heavy metal into songs as disciplined as if they came from the Brill building – which they did, because that is where Lou got his start. Yes, the same hallway that produced The Loco-motion and Pleasant Valley Sunday, produced Sweet Jane, and Romeo Met Juliet. I asked him once about the beat poets, were there any he particularly admired?  “Some, but most who called themselves that weren’t disciplined enough” he complained.  “I’m a formalist not an action painter, when it comes to words.  When it comes to sounds, that’s a whole different matter.”  
Lou was born out of two influences that can’t be underestimated. One: the extraordinary talents of his band mates in The Velvet Underground, who then influenced pretty much every group that had a foot in the 70s. (Witness our own Running to Stand Still for red-handed proof). U2 were beyond ourselves with delight when The Velvet Underground reformed to play some select dates in the early 90s, including some with us. Pale Blue Eyes is perfection in pop.
Two: the short-story writer Delmore Schwarz. Lou would return to this subject a few times with me and got me to read In Dreams Begin Responsibilities. I did and they do. He also got me a collection of essays, The Ego Is Always At The Wheel. It is and I know. I got him a collection of Seamus Heaney poems a couple of months back. Our last conversation was a simple thanks.
The music is eternal, it will keep being made even without him.
It was wonderful to see Lou reunited with Bob Ezrin on their Berlin Live Tour in 2007, and to know that his beloved neighbour Julian Schnabel was set-designing and filming. This album had me fantasizing about The Great Divided City long before U2 recorded there. I think it was originally meant to be rock opera for stage rather than screen. Maybe that will happen now, as the world digests how serious a loss we’ve just sustained.  
It's too easy to think of Lou Reed as a wild creature who put songs about heroin in the pop charts, like some decadent lounge lizard from the Andy Warhol factory.  This couldn’t have been further from the truth.  He was thoughtful, meditative and extremely  disciplined.  Before the hepatitis that he caught as a drug user returned to bring his recent health problems, Lou was in top physical condition. Tai Chi was what he credited for his lithe physicality and clear complexion.  This is how I will remember him, a still figure in the eye of a metallic hurricane, an artist pulling strange shapes out of the formless void that is pop culture, a songwriter pulling eternal melodies out of the dissonance of what Yeats called “This filthy modern tide” and yes, pop’s truly great poker-face – with so much comedy dancing around those piercing eyes.  The universe is not laughing today.'

No comments:

Post a Comment