Lou Reed: Personal Hero

Kyle Seasly

In my angsty teenage days I remember walking around my high school before class began and blasting “Sister Ray” by the Velvet Underground. I can also recall a band when I was in high school struggling to play “Rock and Roll” by the same New Yorkers.

It’s interesting how much one person’s music can have such a drastic effect on one’s life. This week I have felt like Jason Segel’s character in the “Freaks and Geeks” episode where he just repeats “John Bonham’s dead,” after I found out Lou Reed died on Sunday.

I’ve always viewed the Velvet Underground as the godfathers of the “underground” movement. Perhaps it was because underground was in their name, or just that I remember hearing that The Velvet Underground and Nico was one of the most influential albums of all time and decided I absolutely had to listen to it, or that everyone who ever listened to them always started a band –– and I suppose that’s true in my case. I was looking for something different than what I heard on the “alternative” and “classic” rock stations.

Whenever I was up late on a Saturday night, I would put on “Sunday Morning” and would laugh to myself. Even this summer I would put on “Coney Island Baby” by Lou Reed and listen to it all the way through.

One of my favorite songs of Reed’s is where he talks about a girl, Jenny, whose life was saved by rock and roll. “Rock and Roll” in many ways saved my life, too, and Lou Reed was a big part of that –– so I always can relate to that song. If I didn’t have rock and roll, I don’t know what I would do with my time. When I walk around campus, I’m listening to music; when I have free time, I try to listen or play music; and some of my best times have been playing concerts here at Whitman College.

It’s interesting how in this day and age one can get to know someone so well through their music without ever meeting them. The Velvet Underground and Nico, I feel, places me on the streets of New York in the 1960s, hanging outside Andy Warhol’s factory perhaps. White Light/White Heat takes me somewhere dark and mysterious, and their third LP makes me kind of contemplative and melancholy.

In many ways, it’s very strange that I feel sad about Lou’s death –– I never knew him personally. But artists have this effect on many people, and we will always feel connected to their work in some way. It’s sad to see them pass away. Although I wasn’t a huge fan of his collaboration with Metallica, and have never listened to Metal Machine Music, I still consider myself a huge fan.

Until he died, it had probably been at least a year since I listened to the Velvet Underground. What’s even more odd about a famous person’s death is that it always causes a resurgence in popularity. For me, I’ve been blasting “Sister Ray” again and remembering one of my first influences.