Lou Reed, the rock'n'roll animal, died last month.
The first time I heard his music, was on a CD I rented at a local library. I was still a fresh immigrant to Germany, and thirsty for all the art and music that the Soviet regime blocked for seventy years. At that point, I had been unraveling the great mystery of Western culture for maybe two or three years, consuming art and photography books, fine literature, iconic films, and all kinds of music.
Reconstructing cultural references would lead me from Oscar Wilde to Aubrey Beardley, and from him, to ukio-e of Japan, pop art, and comics, and on and on. I would read books and listen to music that was named as influences on the artists and authors that I liked, and would repeat the cycle as much as I could, building this mental map of the 20th century awesomeness.
So there I was, in my room in a high-rise on the outskirts of Berlin, listening to the soundtrack CD for the movie "The Doors" -- which I still had to watch at that point -- when I heard this unearthly electric sound and a languid voice reciting "I... don't know... just where I'm going..."
It was so different from the quite accessible music of the Doors, so dark, and so unlike anything else I have heard to date. I had to find more of the same.
Once I got to hear one full Velvet Underground album, I was in love forever. The love continues to this day. I have been lucky enough to attend several of Lou's concerts, both in Berlin and in the United States, and of course I collected all of Lou's music, from his Velvets days to the recent stuff.
Lou's music and lyrics followed me through my early years in Berlin, through the university, my travels, my first job, all the way to today. I found that different songs and albums resonated with me, as I lived and changed and grew as a person.
Even though I never met him in person, the fact that we're no longer sharing the same planet breaks my heart. Lou is one of the few people whose art and ideas influenced me the most.