LOU REED by Elizabeth Barker & Laura Jane Faulds

LIZI already wrote my love letter to Lou Reed, four months ago. I still agree with all of it, especially the part about how I love Lou Reed for never getting over Lou Reed.
       The first song I listened to after I found out Lou Reed died was "I Found a Reason," which I'd just listened to an hour before. I woke up in a very "I Found a Reason"-y mood that morning, and Lou Reed's dying intensified that, and I wanted to write I do believe if you don't like things you leave on every wall in the world. "I Found a Reason" is the holiest Lou Reed/Velvet Underground song for me; in my head it lives next to "Oh! Sweet Nuthin'", which is a little bit holy but mostly my saddest Lou song. "Sweet Jane" is the sweetest, it's angelic and dirty - not "dirty" like "nasty," but just like it's got some dirt on it, a mix of soot and good, minerally soil. "Satellite of Love" is Jonathan Rhys Meyers and Ewan McGregor riding carnival spaceships through the sky, being in love and boys; "Walk on the Wild Side" is still the shitty mustard-yellow/dirt-brown Dodge Dart my dad drove in the late 1980s. "Rock and Roll" is forever and always the song that is most my song of all the songs that have ever been sung.
        And "Sister Ray" is all different things. On Halloween night I went to a party and a guy was dressed as Lou and I never found out his name: I just kept calling him Lou, because if you're going to be Lou Reed for Halloween four days after Lou Reed died, then you have to accept that Lou Reed is the only thing that matters about you. I walked home from the party, up the biggest hill in the world, and I didn't have my earbuds but I wanted to listen to a 21-and-a-half-minute-long version of "Sister Ray" from a show the Velvet Underground played in Boston in 1969. So I just put it on and pressed my phone to my ear like I was talking to Lou Reed singing "Sister Ray," and walked up the hill and down the hill in the big scary dark, full of wine and candy. That version's even more psychotic than the original: it sounds like murdering, but it's also free and dreamy and pretty and heaven-like. I guess I already knew that it's possible to feel all those things at once, but Lou makes it so you don't even need to think about it - he just makes it happen to you. The peak of the murder-y/heaven-y feeling is this 
part where Lou sings about someone knocking on his chamber door, and then Maureen Tucker beats the drums like a door being knocked, and then Lou does his cool stuttering thing, and the guitars speed up and get extra-insane and extra-psychotic. I want to tell you exactly where it is but I think you have to get through it and find out yourself. All I can say is it's somewhere after the middle but not very close to the end.
       When LJ and I were writing our Beatles book, I was going to have a Lou Reed lyric be my Beatles-book epigraph: it was going to be the part from "Beginning to See the Light" that goes "I met myself in a dream, and I just wanted to tell you everything was all right." It took me a while to figure that out, because "Beginning to See the Light" is so much in my head that sometimes I forget that it's there. I've never not known Lou Reed so I've always taken him for granted and I really like living that way - but I'm also so happy for those moments when I remember the existence of Lou Reed, when a Lou Reed song is the only thing that matters about me or about anything.

LJ: When I found out Lou Reed died, I was sitting at one of the pink-red leather booths at the back of my new restaurant, next to the open kitchen, a silvery metallic blur hovering around one side of my right eye, eating ceviche out of a small white bowl so cute and round it should’ve been called a cup. The cold-station cook at my new restaurant used to be a pastry chef at one of the most famous hotels in Mumbai before she moved here for marriage, and her ceviches are made out of the exact same ingredients as the ceviches at my old restaurant, only she chops them up much tinier and so that all the bits are the exact same size, and when eaten out of a clear vessel, as they are when they’re served to customers, it looks like a goblet crammed full of gemstones.
         My story of how I found out Lou Reed died is not very interesting beyond the ceviche: I was looking at Instagram on my phone while I took a little break from work to chill and eat ceviche, saw a bunch of pictures of Lou Reed or Lou Reed records people’d posted, caught a chill, Googled Lou Reed’s name, and found out that he died. I thought the following thoughts, very quickly, in order: 

 -The possibility of Lou Reed dying never occurred to me before this instant 

 -I’m going to remember that I was eating ceviche when I found out Lou Reed died for the entire rest of my life
-Lou Reed was born the same year as Paul McCartney, which is weird, since the Beatles happened first
-If you’d have asked me to guess, I’d have put him at sixty-six
-Is seventy-one a normal age to die, or is it too soon?
-I feel like when I was a kid more people died at seventy-one than they do today
-I think it’s “on the younger side of average”
-Today must be a really weird day for all the people who were planning on dressing up as Lou Reed for Halloween
-I’m not going to let Lou Reed’s death get to me

And, in the spirit of not letting Lou Reed’s death get to me, I finished eating my ceviche before telling my co-worker that Lou Reed died. I wasn’t going to let Lou Reed’s death prevent me from enjoying my ceviche.


It’s not that I never loved Lou Reed, it’s that I never thought of myself as being a person who loved Lou Reed. Though if you’d asked me, “Do you love Lou Reed?” I would have spat a venomous “Yes” at you, like a more serious “Duhhhh,” like what kind of idiot are you, like “Of course,” only meaner. But as someone who moved to New York City at eighteen in the hopes of one day self-identifying as “a New Yorker,” only to discover that I’m actually “a New Yorker”’s nameless opposite, I fundamentally can’t relate to anyone as fundamentally New York-y as Lou Reed for crying out loud, and also I love John Cale so much that I can’t help but like Lou Reed a little less in his honor. They’re both Pisces but with Lou you can tell his moon’s in something fiery, something real dominant and aggro, he’s like a fighter, light and sharp, like a boxer the fighter and like a Boxer the dog, but John Cale’s all water, a terrifying yet peaceable Frankenstein who emerged from a lagoon needing nothing more than To Be Loved.
        But mostly it’s that when I think of Lou Reed, I think of BLACK, the non-color black. I think of a bleak, ugly world populated by sex criminals walking other sex criminals around on fraying leashes made of rope colored black with dried-out black Sharpie, the insides of their noses crusted over with bloody brown crud, sharp like all the Clorox chemical drugs they’re always shivering from their having recently taken or direly needing to take, and it’s always either November or February, and Edie Sedgwick’s slumped over in some corner, annoying you by being a wealthy pointless succubus and then dying, making you feel guilty about how you were once annoyed by her being a wealthy pointless succubus, and everybody smokes cigarettes, and there’s cigarette butts floating around in the only water the entire city’s got to drink, and Lou Reed’s like “My week beats your year,” and you’re just like “Euucchh, Lou. No it doesn’t.”

I came home from the gym, and climbed into bed with my boyfriend. “I think it’s time to wake up,” I said, and he agreed with me. It was one in the afternoon.

        I made him a cup of coffee, and asked, “Do you want to hear what the Velvet Underground sound like?” (It was two days after Lou Reed died, and a lot had happened in between: I’d been very drunk, sobbing to my boyfriend in my black lace dress half-on/half-off, terrified of how many thoughts I’ve been forgetting to think, understanding why I don’t believe in God and why I want to make money, though blown away by how I've stopped believing that writing could give it to me too, confused as to why I didn’t think that I could live a life without God but not be godless, why we all live inside a bubble, and why I ever thought that this bubble meant anything; I woke up at six in the morning and ate a handful of lentil chips to get myself back to sleep, and when we woke up properly we loved each other more than we’d loved ever each other before. We went out for a “fancy-dancy” lunch as he’d adorably say and I recklessly drank two (two!) glasses of wine: one rose, a Syrah, and one of a peppy and dynamic Riesling. We shared a pear and foie gras terrine which we spread onto bread, the French waiter my boyfriend knew dropped the spoon holding the little cubes of dark jelly that I ignored and it shattered; I salted every slice and peppered every slice and then ate them with frisee. I somehow got to work one minute early (work was why the wine was reckless) and sat in the office listening to Sweet Jane on headphones; Lou Reed was in a rock and roll band but I’m more like the girl, Jane, from the couple, “saving up all their monies,” it’s a little condescending the way he talks about them but I’d probably think bankers and clerks were as lame as Lou Reed did if I were Lou Reed too, and I thought about how nice his name is, how nice I’ve always thought his name is, and I thought about how tired I was, how much I missed my boyfriend, how foie gras tastes like earth.)
         He said he did, and I played him Who Loves The Sun. “This is my favorite Velvet Underground song,” I said, “It’s kind of a weird choice to have be your favorite Velvet Underground song. It’s not a very accurate representation of what they actually sound like.”           “It’s nice!” he said, but I take it back- it’s not my favorite Velvet Underground song, though it is the Velvet Underground song that reminds me most of myself: a warm yellow pop song about hating everything. And my favorite Velvet Underground song isn’t Beginning To See The Light either, nor is it She’s My Best Friend, though they're all close seconds, and no song Nico sang’s definitely not my favorite Velvet Underground song- her voice is something to endure, not enjoy- though ever since I fell in love there’s a weirdly stunning line from I’ll Be Your Mirror I refer to at least once a week: I find it hard/ To believe you don’t know/ The beauty you are- 
        But my favorite song from The Velvet Underground & Nico’s got to be There She Goes Again: I’d like to believe that if I were a character in a movie it could maybe play in the background when I first arrived onscreen: I’d like to think that I could be those bam-bam-bam-bam/bam-bam-bam-bams, reclining into a smirk, then coming back to bam-bam-bam all over again, just when you thought everything was gonna be copacetic, it was never gonna be copacetic, the "You better hit her" a nod to my general frustratingness, particularly as a love interest, and I’m partial to any piece of art that talks about flying like There She Goes Again or Norwegian Wood. That’s what flying means for humans, if it doesn’t mean flying in an airplane. It means going away forever.
         And my favorite Velvet Underground song, believe it or not, is Here She Comes Now, but just as my favorite Beatles song isn’t Hey Jude, the best Velvet Underground song is Sister Ray.

The summer I turned sixteen, my Internet best friend came to visit. I'd never loved her as much as I'd loved the idea of it, and the whole trip- a plodding, excessive three count ‘em three weeks long- was a farce, either of us doing more-or-less half-assed jobs at pretending that we were having as much as fun as I’d inferred from the sourness informing the bulk of her parlance that we were never going to have: it was obvious that she found all details of my life- from my Brutalist high school's poorly-executed open-concept math department, where I went to pick up a near-failure of a trig exam to my ugly dying poodle, my chubby best friends, the pot we smoked out of taped-up bus transfers to impress her- disappointingly unglamorous. She came from privilege, which made me feel poor, and I could tell she was upset that my family didn’t live closer to Toronto’s downtown.
        Her second week here, we stayed at a cottage that belonged to one of my mother’s co-workers; my family didn’t have a cottage; my Internet best friend’s family had a lake house. The cottage was boring, and my mother was afraid that our dogs were going to fall off the balcony and die. My friend and I drank twenty-four cans of Pepsi in three days and talked about how many calories were in the Pepsi. At night we each slept on the bottom bunk of a duo of bunk beds and, once she fell asleep, I’d sneak out and lie on the pier next to the lake or bay or river or whichever it was, probably bay, being eaten alive by skeeters, too bored to write it down in my notebook (“nothing worth documenting,” I would have hummed sedately), listening to Sister Ray on headphones, hating everyone except the moon.
          Sister Ray, broken and majestic, was a secret more illicit than any body part or crazy thing you could do with it, truly more bad than any drug. I didn’t want anyone in the world to know I had it. Some older boys at school I knew had heard the other one, the one with the banana on the cover, but nobody knew about White Light/White Heat except for me.
          It was one of the first songs that took me outside myself- I’d already found the Beatles, but the Beatles drew me deeper within. I didn’t care for many of the words the Velvet Underground sang: Heroin, “It’s my life and it’s my wife” sounded overwrought even to human history’s most dramatic sixteen-year-old; The Gift was like poetry from a long time ago that a nerd would be into, only about Wisconsin, and there was a part about caresses and sexual oblivion that made sex sound really lame; Sister Ray had its moments, but they were burdened by its incessant “sucking on my ding-dong”s, which embarrassed me then, and embarrass me now. It was the guitars I cared about, the music and the noise, the rasp and slur of a Vox Continental organ getting fucked (and I mean that as a compliment) (in the highest regard) by my favorite Welsh Lurch, and it didn’t make me think about life or sex or anything, it just was, and those nights on the pier, amazing to think I didn’t have a glass of wine with me, were the first that I fully understood the vastness and violence with which I would always be a woman who preferred sound to sight, water to air, air to AC. And the ease with which I would always choose solitude.

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