Sunday, October 27, 2013

the sound track of undergraduate life (in memoriam Lou Reed)

I listened to a very great deal of Lou Reed when I was an undergraduate - whether in his Velvet Underground days, or, perhaps even more, the early solo albums.  Transformer (1972) was always the album that I put on before going out to a party - nothing like blasting out 'Walk on the Wild Side' to get one in the mood.  I can remember going to a party in Norham Road during perhaps my second week in Oxford where it was playing at top volume, and being so, so relieved that at last here were some people who had the same musical taste that I was used to from London (you wouldn't think that 65 miles would make a difference, but it did.  I'd been invited to a party a day or so earlier by another girl in my English set, and it turned out to be mugs of hot Ribena (that's a  very non-alcoholic very sweet blackcurrant drink that was touted as being full of Vitamin C) and a sing-along to the Messiah).  And Transformer remains my favorite Lou Reed album.

But I couldn't find it in the garage - not during my first, hasty look, anyway.  It was Berlin (1973) that rose to the surface, also, I guess, a party record, since it says "Kate" in the corner in, I think, my friend Robert Collingwood's writing; and it smells of stale beer overlain with English student housing damp.  But I don't associate it with parties so much as late night essay writing and, above all, revising for Finals.  This was one of a handful of records that I played incessantly during the summer of '76, together with Emmylou Harris's Pieces of the Sky, Ry Cooder's Into the Purple Valley, and Dylan's Blood on the Tracks, with occasional variations of Dory Previn and the discovery of that year, Bruce Springsteen.  But Bruce was a bit upbeat for revision.  So to this day the sound of those dreadful, heart wrenching, maddening wailing children on 'The Kids' makes me think of trying to cram quotations from Malory and the Faerie Queene and Machiavelli and Castliglione and Byron and Defoe and Wordsworth and Coleridge into my head.  John Clare - I was particularly strong on John Clare - I subjected to the particular torture of setting to the guitar and my own singing - I can only think that Lou Reed's example made me feel that it was ok to strum along and sing in a low growl.

RIP Lou Reed, and thank you.  

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