Remembering the Lou Reed I knew and loved

Over the last few weeks, many people have been sharing their feelings about their dear departed friend Lou Reed. And now, with the first wave of tribute books arriving just in time for the Christmas market, I feel my own (quite natural) reluctance to participate finally withering away.

lou_grantI was introduced to Lou Reed by a girl at university. She was called Jordan. Sort of. During the first week of the first term of her first year, she revealed (to her small but rapidly-growing circle of friends) her intention to discard the name she had been given by her parents and to rename herself after one of the characters in The Great Gatsby.

This name-change wasn’t a statement about sexual orientation. She (the Jordan I knew, that is) wasn’t a lesbian. Jordan was always popular with members of the opposite sex. Not that this proves anything, of course. Nor am I hinting here at any form of disapproval of lesbianism. Not in any way, shape or form. Jordan, though, did not wear brogues. Not that there is anything wrong with brogues. And come to think of it, I can’t recall her exact taste in footwear.

Anyway. Jordan was terribly popular because there was a nice sort of mischief about her. Something slightly dangerous, something slightly rebellious, something irrepressible. One spring term she went so far as to wear a French-style beret everywhere she went, held in place at a jaunty angle by a hairpin. This at a time when few young women wore any sort of hat.

As I say, she introduced me to Lou (if I may be excused this affectation of familiarity). The unforgettable encounter I’m recalling came in the corridor just outside the college library. I was exiting the library; she was loitering there as if waiting for someone.

“Hello!” I said.

One of the most endearing things about Jordan was the way she would sometimes affect to be bored with you and look straight through you, blanking you entirely when you went up to her. And yet, of course, even her silence was devastatingly charming.

On this occasion I persisted. “I noticed you weren’t at the Milton lecture this morning.”

She again said nothing – though I could see I had set her thinking.

“I do hope you have not been ill.”

At this point she gave me a strangely quizzical look and was clearly about to reply with vehemence; but she thought better of this and, instead, said rather wearily: “I was bored. If you must know, I went into town and bought a record.

“Oh,” I replied. “Who by?”

“Lou Reed.”

“Oh, I say,” I said. “And what is his record called?”

I’m sure she must have told me… but at this great distance in time, this particular detail escapes me. But isn’t that just the way of it?

It will be pointed out to me, I’m sure, that I am not the world’s most natural Lou Reed fan. Bach is certainly more my thing – and I’d also concede, if pushed, that I have never expressed much enthusiasm in the past for pop music of any sort. It might also be inferred that, if it came down to it, I’d be hard-pushed to identify anything from the Reed ouvre.

I’d counter by insisting that this insinuation is far from fair. I found out recently, for instance, that the song featured in the BBC’s much-feted Perfect Day promotion of a decade or more ago was a Reed composition – and I believe he actually appeared briefly in the video. I also believe that he had a record in the Hit Parade in 1973.

But this is all really by-the-by.

I am drawn, time and again, to recall that chance meeting with Jordan in a university corridor, a meeting now etched on my memory, a true meeting (as I realised only belatedly) of minds. A meeting, in short, when I was first enabled, instinctively and yet profoundly, to appreciate Lou Reed’s sheer humanity. And of course the almost savage power of his raw creativity.

I knew then that he was a genius.

And later, that evening, alone in the privacy of my digs, I surely wept.

There. It’s all out now.

A number of Lou Reed appreciations are available for purchase this pre-Christmas, including the profoundly moving Lou Reed: The Life by Mick Wall. There has also been a second wave of moving tributes in newspapers, including this heart-wrenching piece in the Observer. Lou Reed died in October following a protracted struggle with euphemism. He is survived by his wife, Laura Ashley.

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