Lou Reed died last Sunday of liver disease – what a great loss to the world of popular music. He bought a unique influence to the table in ways that are still being fathomed. While I liked his dark and deliberate persona, his rugged vocal delivery, and his innate sense of obtuseness, some of the heroin chic material from his heyday (‘Walk on the Wild Side,’ ‘Perfect Day’) became so popular that it seemed evacuated of all bohemian spirit. His gentle returns to populism (‘Satellite of Love’) were more comforting, but I connected only sometimes with what Lou had to say.
The song I really loved of his was ‘Venus In Furs.’
Not being a musicologist, I will not even attempt to get technical about its brilliance, just sketch a few thoughts. The first thing to note is the astounding, jupiterian slowness of the whole piece, giving it a languid time signature and unrushed gravity almost unlike any other song in living memory. Its medieval drum pattern, lacerating streaks of violin and open, resonating guitar chords also add to the mystery of the whole scenario. In the middle of it all, though, it is Lou’s delightfully sordid and strangely gentle vocals that make ‘Venus in Furs’ a record in a class of its own.
Reed’s vocals are inflected, understated and yet heightened, pregnant with their own obscene implications. “Now bleeeed for me” he says and he immediately chuckles, as if he is either actually depraved or just play-acting, like an awestruck child, a little shocked at what he has just uttered.
Beck – who can usually be relied upon to deliver wonderfully deranged creativity of his own – calls ‘Venus in Furs’ “possibly… the first goth song ever.” Yet, to me, his own homage seemed relatively limp, confused and lifeless.
Long live Lou … We have lost one of the greats.