Comment: Lou Reed

Lou Reed/Transformer

Amid the continuing outpouring of tributes for Lou Reed in the print media, where are the TV documentaries to accompany them, asks Mike Pinnington…

Waking up on Monday 28th October, casually flicking on BBC Breakfast as usual, it came as something of a shock to be confronted by the news that Lou Reed, lead singer and songwriter for The Velvet Underground, had died.

It didn’t sink in at first, but when it finally began to, I did a quick mental inventory and realised that, while I’ve never strictly thought of anyone as a hero, Reed is the first significant cultural influencer of my life to have passed. That he has done so at the relatively sensible age of 71 is scant consolation.

Now, reading this, you may very well be thinking: ‘If he was so important to you, why wait until now to write something?’ I had wanted to resist adding my meagre words to all the written obits, tributes and profiles that had beaten me to the punch, but so significant was his impact on the soundtrack to my life that I thought again.

“Hearing The Velvet Underground changed the music I listened to forever”

The first time I was aware of hearing The Velvet Underground was on listening to a mix tape which featured their track I’m Waiting for the Man. I listened to that tape over and over – the mix was great and also included something by the Pixies, amongst others.

Without doubt though, it was the Velvet’s song which stood out – head and shoulders – above the rest; I’d never heard anything like it. I must have been around 17 at the time, and looking back, it changed the music I listened to forever.

I can pretty much chart my taste and aural filtering system development from that moment; when I bought vinyl for the first time my collection began with their debut, The Velvet Underground & Nico, from which Waiting for the Man was drawn.

Lou Reed

Of course, I’m not the only person to have been influenced by that record – Brian Eno said that only 30,000 people bought the first Velvet Underground album when it came out, but they all formed bands; fan of the irascible man, and by extension, the Velvet Underground or not, it’s impossible to overstate their importance to the genre as we know it.

1967′s The Velvet Underground & Nico is one of the greatest (I’d argue night and day that it’s THE greatest), most influential debuts in music history – sure, there are a handful of people willing to say otherwise, but seriously. However, Reed’s significance to myself and others isn’t the only reason I was moved to eventually write this.

“Without him, rock just wouldn’t have been the same”

The morning after he died, the Guardian’s Alexis Petridis correctly noted that, while “there’s a natural tendency among fans and journalists alike to overstate the late [famous rock star’s] importance, [Reed had been] the inimitable man rock music was waiting for”. That is to say, we had neither seen nor heard of his like before, and without him, rock just wouldn’t have been the same.

That being the case, the lack of a rush by TV to properly commemorate Reed, his legacy and the sheer weight of his contribution to popular culture, is astonishing; the one music show related mention was a derisory few seconds of an old interview on last week’s Later with Jools Holland. Hardly impossible to miss.

Perhaps I have missed something, but that’s the point; I had been expecting such a wealth of dedicated programming that, on any given day, at any time of night, I should have been stumbling across another Lou Reed documentary.

Where have been the succession of hour-long specials from BBC4 I was expecting to throw myself into, fighting back tears on hearing Pale Blue Eyes, Stephanie Says, or any of his deceptively beautiful ballads for that matter?

Maybe it’s that he’s not British – had it (god forbid) been David Bowie, we wouldn’t have been able to move for the televisual tributes and rightly so – but that hardly seems like a plausible excuse.

Whatever the reason, ultimately, this feels like an affront.

Mike Pinnington

Posted on 06/11/2013 by thedoublenegative