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October 27: Walking on the Wild Side

Lawrence Bush
October 26, 2016
Lou Reed, the great storytelling rocker who led the influential, short-lived Velvet Underground band and had a half-century solo career, died at 71 of liver disease on this date in 2013. Reed was an avant-gardist, an innovative electric guitarist, and a monotone-voiced bard of drug abuse (“Heroin,” “I’m Waiting for My Man”), sex and sexual fluidity (“Take a Walk on the Wild Side”), cultural oppression and political corruption (“Sex with Your Parents”), and marginalization of all kinds (“I’ll Be Your Mirror”). He had a reputation as brilliantly creative but mean and irascible -- a substance abuser, self-destructive and self-pitying — and his musical outpouring was erratic but very often compelling. At his best, Reed was a devastatingly sly critic of “normalcy,” a troubadour of individuality and difference, and a rock and roll innovator with his droning voice and guitar, his shifting sexuality, his wonderful storytelling. “Glam, punk and alternative rock are all unthinkable without his revelatory example,” said Rolling Stone in its obituary. “ ‘One chord is fine,’ [Reed] once said, alluding to his bare-bones guitar style. ‘Two chords are pushing it. Three chords and you’re into jazz.’ ” To see him performing in 2003, look below. To see the Velvet Underground performing a quiet version of “I’m Waiting for My Man” in 1972, look below that. “When you think the night has seen your mind That inside you’re twisted and unkind Let me stand to show that you are blind Please put down your hands ‘Cause I see you I’ll be your mirror.” —Lou Reed

​​​​Lawrence Bush edited Jewish Currents from 2003 until 2018. He is the author of Bessie: A Novel of Love and Revolution and Waiting for God: The Spiritual Explorations of a Reluctant Atheist, among other books. His new volume of illustrated Torah commentaries, American Torah Toons 2, is scheduled for publication this year.