The first time I indulged in a full Velvet Underground album was when I was seventeen. It was "Loaded." I borrowed the CD from the local library in the center of Florence, the Oblate, a labyrinth of a building with stunning views of the Duomo from every window and little to no internet access. Amid the bustle of a hundred jaded high school students shuffling into the courtyard for cigarette breaks, I would sit for hours, deep into my Greek literature, conspicuously bobbing my chin to the bass of 'Sweet Jane.'
Caught in limbo between disillusion from a school that didn’t believe in me and a passion for music that nearly led me to pursue a professional career, I found Lou Reed. Within the technicolor happiness and melodic banality of the hippie era, Reed took to black clothing, an austere look, and told it like it was, embodying the visual reference of 'cool.' Unlike him, I basked in the tragedy of my uncoolness. Like him, I was opinionated and had a physiological inability to spontaneously warm up to people who I didn’t know for at least five years. I was also a romantic.
What made Lou Reed click was the architecture. Mixing deadpan and mostly spoken verse, with melodies ranging from the meticulously ornate to the divinely simple, Reed was both aggressive and tender, cold and desperately in love, dark and fragile. I reference the juxtaposition of the halfhearted tonality of voice over a full orchestra as he sings a grocery list of the small things that make up a perfect day; the childlike manner with which he tells us how he enjoys television, leading to a repetitive Bolero-esque climax as “satellite of love” is softly repeated over the sudden burst of David Bowie’s howls; the cryptic lullaby of 'I’ll Be Your Mirror' ending on a change of key and a sheepish back-vocal plea for his lover to just be herself. These songs were researched and they were unfiltered. They were pathos. They were uncompromising.Lou Reed died at the age of 71 in his home on Long Island after a strenuous battle with liver-related diseases. He was a vocalist, a guitarist, founder of Velvet Underground, solo performer, driving force to the era that knew Warhol, Bowie and Smith, a man with sphynx-like demeanor and soul to outlive the ages, a crucial brick in the monument of rock ‘n’ roll. He was the decadent sweetheart, the voice of the chronically curious and continuously brooding, the eternal romantic.