I feel compelled to note the recent passing of Lou Reed. Though not as well-known as Bob Dylan or Bruce Springsteen, Reed was a singer-songwriter with extraordinary talent. Over a career that spanned six decades, he recorded songs that ranged from the pretty (Walk on the Wild Side”) to the tragic (“Street Hassle”) to the menacing (“Sister Ray”) and counted among his fans U2, Metallica and even Susan Boyle.
I can trace my affection for Lou Reed back to 1984 when I watched him on MTV performing a song called “I Love You, Suzanne.” He seemed like a very strange person — A 40-something rocker wearing jeans, a black T-shirt and dark glasses. But his music, heavy with pounding guitars and simple lyrics that still run through my head, struck me as beautiful, and at that moment, I knew I was listening to something I’d always wanted to hear.
While it was Lou Reed’s sound that first attracted my attention, what kept it however was the dexterity with which he used the words in his songs to craft portraits of people with problems (and who doesn’t have problems?) that could at once be unpleasant, amusing and poignant. In fact, I think his storytelling skills inspired me to major in English when I went to college and guided me later when I pursued advanced degrees in the same area. My decision to become an English professor who teaches creative writing has a lot to do with him, too.
Of course Lou Reed is not for everyone; his singing voice was frequently off-key and grating. But as the years pass, I think the public’s esteem for him will grow — much as it did for another great American poet, Edgar Allen Poe — and we can similarly expect his influence on writers and lovers of the English language to linger on.
Stephen B. Armstrong
Associate professor of English
Dixie State University
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