Tag Archives: Lou Reed

Lou and Laurie’s rules for life

'Here he comes, all dressed in black.' Lou Reed, 2011. Pic: Man Alive!

Lou Reed, 2011. Pic: Man Alive!

I don’t associate Lou Reed with lifestyle advice. Nor his wife Laurie Anderson. Groundbreaking, avant garde, rule-shredding music – yes. How to maximize your living minutes – not really.

Until I came across, via an Open Culture post, Lou and Laurie’s three rules for living well. Anderson revealed these during her acceptance speech at Reed’s 2015 induction into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.

She and Reed developed them because, as she warns, “things happen so fast, it’s always good to have a few, like, watchwords to fall back on”.

The rules are short and simple.

  1. Don’t be afraid of anyone
  2. Get a really good bullshit detector
  3. Be really, really tender

And what better to accompany them than Reed’s great song of empathy, his “hand in the darkness so you won’t be afraid”?

There – you’re living better already.

 

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Listening to New York – a playlist

Woody Guthrie, New York, 1943 Pic: Life

Woody Guthrie, New York, 1943
Pic: Life

New York is the concentrate of art and commerce and sport and religion and entertainment and finance…It carries on its lapel the unexpungeable odor of the long past, so that no matter where you sit in New York you feel the vibrations of great times and tall deeds.

Every time I arrive in New York, stepping up from the bowels of a subway station or out of a yellow taxi, it feels like I’ve stepped into a moving story.

E.B. White felt the same. His testament to the city, Here Is New York, was written more than 60 years ago. The vibrations of great times and tall deeds echo still.

For me the city has always been more about the former. The hum that runs through its art, its sport, commerce and entertainment is a hook that’s drawn me back many times since I first set foot there, emerging from Penn Station 20 years ago into the humid rush hour on a September afternoon.

The vibrations are most clearly manifest in the music of the city: the sound of morning delivery trucks accelerating across junctions, the rattle of subterranean trains heard through ventilation grilles streets above, the rush and push of crowds on cramped sidewalks.

This is echoed in some of the recorded music I’ve listened on visits to the city – New York compositions, songs and performances.

Ahead of an upcoming visit I’ve put together a dozen of these on a playlist. Today, it seems, is an appropriate one to listen to it.

800px-53rd_&_3rdSome of the tracks are, at this stage, part of the fabric of the city itself  – Rhapsody In Blue, George Gershwin’s attempt to capture New York’s “vast melting pot”, its “metropolitan madness”, for one.

Others are more personal. Phil Chevron’s Thousands Are Sailing depicts a city seen through the eyes of the Irish immigrants of the 1980s – the “desert twilight” of Broadway at dusk, the postcards home from “rooms that daylight never sees”.

Some are well-known – Woody Guthrie’s anthem This Land Is Your Land opens by namechecking “the New York island”. Others less so.

Movement, transit, motion onwards and forward is a regular theme, from Duke Ellington’s Take The “A” Train to – two generations later – Guru’s Transit Ride – two takes on the same subway system.

And the street is ever-present: Lou Reed waiting on a corner of Lexington and 125th, Joey Ramone on 53rd and 3rd, a new-in-town Bob Dylan staring up at the Empire State Building.

It’s all New York, a place – as White wrote – “like poetry: it compresses all life, all races and breeds, into a small island and adds music and the accompaniment of internal engines”.

Or one where, as the Beastie Boys put it, there’s no sleep ’til Brooklyn.

_____

 

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‘Two chords are pushing it.’

'Here he comes, all dressed in black.' Lou Reed, 2011. Pic: Man Alive!

‘Here he comes, all dressed in black.’
Lou Reed, 2011.
Pic: Man Alive!

I WAS in a garage band once: a band of guys crammed into the dusty garage.

Once a week we’d meet up and bang out whatever we could.

I’d like to say there was a highly refined aesthetic to our efforts. There wasn’t.

The four of us played the only way we could and let the missed cues, bum notes and false starts look after themselves.

This is the point where I quote Brian Eno’s line about everyone who bought the first  Velvet Underground album forming a band.

It’s the sort of tired aphorism that Lou Reed might’ve eventually despised, probably, despite it being – in our case at least – partly true.

One of the first songs we rehearsed and recorded was I’m Waiting For The Man. I’m sure we tried Femme Fatale or Sunday Morning at various stages, before attempting our own material.

But even after we’d dropped Velvets’ songs from our warm up (we never tried to write like them, strangely enough) Reed’s ‘one chord’ sonic DIY advice remained.

Not least when it came to recording. Idling online on the morning after his death I landed on a track we’d recorded in that garage one winter a decade ago.

Reed was all over this effort, in spirit at least.

As I remember it the song was cut on a single Sennheiser vocal mike, hung from a roof beam. I think there was a second track for the vocal but I can’t recall (though we certainly mixed something afterwards in ProTools).

My main memories are trying to keep enough blood running through my freezing fingers to hit the blink-and-you-miss-it lead solo.

We always regarded the recording as rough, about as scuzzed out as anyone’s ears could tolerate. But didn’t White Light/White Heat sound rough as hell too?

'One chord is fine'. Rehearsal, 2012.

‘One chord is fine’.
Rehearsal, 2012.

This was the Lou Reed Effect, for me. Just play it. If it’s raw leave it raw.

Listening to Four Miles ten years later I’m glad we applied that. The just-within-our-grasp beat, whatever pedal mix that was, the lo fi drums, even the solo, all sound just dirty and distorted enough to work.

Praise – or blame – Lou Reed for that. RIP.

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