In all the tributes to Lou Reed this week, they’ve missed one critical milestone: on April 17, 1989, Lou Reed was the guest on the radio call-in show Rockline. It changed my life.
Most weeks, Rockline featured acts that were comfortably inside the rock mainstream (the previous guest was Eddie Money), but every now and then they’d have someone interesting. I’d never heard of Lou Reed, so I was only half-following the interview, which mostly served as background noise while I did homework.
Then they played Dirty Blvd., the lead single off of his new record New York. There, in my bedroom, listening to KLOS on my Realistic clock radio, a new universe of rock opened to me. The music was stripped down and bit sloppy, and I saw that it was fine just as it was. The words mixed the literary with the everyday, and even though I could tell that the literary and street references were a bit dodgy, anyone could see he was going for something a lot more interesting than the other bands I was listening to.
I bought the cassette and played it so often it warped.
In his liner notes, Lou Reed says that you should listen to New York straight through, “as though it were a book or a movie”. He got some critical grief for this at the time (so pretentious!), but he’s right. So, to get you started, here’s Romeo Had Juliette, track one from New York.