Belfast Telegraph

Lou Reed: Raising a toast to Velvet Underground hero who was king of cool

By Mike Gilson

It was the monosyllabic fag end of a particularly robust, late-night, half-witted debate sort of weekend when the news came. Friends were about to start drifting away, a little fragile, dreading Monday when someone said: Lou Reed's dead.

I don't want to exaggerate for hip effect but we were all stunned. No one followed Lou's later life, still living as we were in the halogen bright light of his 1967-70 genius, so we'd lost touch. No one knew of his recent liver transplant and fading health.

But in that kitchen on Sunday night it would not have done to just disappear into the dreary night.

A bottle of wine was found, the iPod player directed to the appropriate tunes and we became animated again.

Doing what generations of grown-up, eternal students have always done.

A game of one-upmanship, parading our mythical knowledge of Lou and his never-to-be-bettered band The Velvet Underground in a competition to borrow just a scintilla of the uber cool that will always be his.

In the gloom of the kitchen you could almost imagine yourself back in that damp, mice-infested, student house in 1983 making stuff up about how long you'd been into the Velvets until, as always, somebody goes too far and reveals themselves to have been the hippest five-year-old in suburbia.

There was always a sort of cultural fascism about Lou and the Velvets.

You were either in the Velvets camp or you were hopelessly, so-square-the-edges-hurt, not. I cringe sometimes when I think of how smug we were.

And yet of course you could never admit how lucky you were yourself to be rescued from the dire Mud and Showaddywaddy thanks to some council estate guru forcing you to put The Velvet Underground and Nico (debut album) on your turntable (thank you Mick Costelloe and your feather cut) just to delight in your gormless, blown-away expression.

Life was never the same again for me.

So on Sunday night, with a genuine lurch in our stomachs, we toasted Lou.

At least we celebrated the Lou frozen in time with Andy Warhol's predatory arm around his shoulders, in the middle of a staggering supernova of seminal songwriting.

Only a few thousand people bought Velvets albums at the time but every one of them went on to form a pioneering rock band, it was famously said.

Solo Lou was simply never as good, despite what the obits may say about Transformer and Berlin, and in truth as a person he became more and more unlikeable.

But we didn't care about that as the songs came thick and fast on Sunday night. Heroin, Femme Fatale, Waiting for the Man, Lonesome Cowboy Bill, Sweet Jane, All Tomorrow's Parties, Foggy Notion, Venus in Furs, I'm Sticking with You, Pale Blue Eyes, until suddenly it was grey, windswept Monday.

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