Lou Reed died last week at 71. He was a cantankerous, revolutionary, avant-garde, proto-punk-rock legend who stood by his principles and blazed a unique path. He will be missed. But don't worry, this isn't going to be some B.S., elegiac, verbose obituary. Everyone and their mother will already have done that by the time this column goes to press.
Instead I'm going to tell you a story.
It had been about seven or eight years since I'd listened to Lou Reed or his long-defunct yet completely seminal band, the Velvet Underground. His death and a subsequent listen to some of my favorite tracks took me right back to those halcyon immediate-post-college days.
One night — I think I was 22 — I was hanging out in the basement of a bar with some Asian guy that I met God only knows where. Guy was straight out of a John Woo movie, a slick-operator type who drove a black Mercedes. Seemed to always be blowing wads of cash, the procurement of which was a mystery to everyone, although we of course had our theories. Really nice guy though. I can't give too many more details because this human Dyson vac is probably still around town somewhere. Or he might be dead or in prison. The story isn't about him anyways.
So flash-forward about eight hours and the next thing I remember is the sun being up and I'm walking from downtown back up the hill to this fleabag apartment I was renting in the Fan right next to Buddy's. By the time I get home it's 11 a.m. and blazing hot. My one window unit is broken, I'm sweating my face off, freaking wired and tired at the same time, and I put on Velvet Underground and stare at the ceiling, just being completely depressed and devoid of hope. Lou's was beautiful, gritty and honest music, but it's never gotten accused of being uplifting — especially when you're coming down.
It's easy to rehash and even glamorize memories like this now, but at the time it was pretty awful. Maybe the worst morning ever — and I've had some really bad ones.
Strangely enough, I hadn't thought of that night and morning in a long time, but the news of Lou Reed's passing took me right back to that twitchy sauna of a hellhole on Stuart Avenue.
Lou was one of those artists you heard and maybe didn't get or even enjoy. But for whatever reason you just knew you were listening to something important. His death really brought back some amusing and some less than amusing memories from the years when I returned to Richmond after finishing college.
Memories, like this last one, that are probably best left in my early 20s.
It seems that most people associate the memories of certain periods and days of their lives with the music they were into at the time — or at the very least, have certain songs trigger long-dormant memories — good and bad.
Scientists have actually found that the region of the brain where memories of our past reside and are retrieved also serves as a hub that links familiar music, memories and emotions, which could explain the memory flood you experience when a certain song or artist comes on.
And don't you just love it when that happens?
Like when a well-timed Cranberries song comes on and I'm magically whisked away to ninth grade. The acne, the lack of cool friends, the agony of trying to talk to girls, the raging hormones, the sudden presence of uncontrollable erections during class and having to stay seated after the bell rang while you pretended to look busy because you couldn't stand up.
Man, those years were fun and not at all awkward.
"Zombie" comes on the radio and Boom — I'm right back there at James River High School!
That I actually listened to and enjoyed the Cranberries obviously was doing me no favors in the cool and girl departments, but what did it matter? I could barely form coherent sentences around women at the time anyways. I spent most weekends playing video games or making backyard wrestling videos with friends who were in the same boat.
Eventually I got on some high-powered medication that cleared up the acne, and not to brag, but at 30 years old, if I'm drunk enough, I'm actually able to have coherent conversations with women. Hell, I even had sex with one of them. Most importantly though, I still listen to the Cranberries and that isn't changing.
Just like ol' Lou, I won't compromise who I am (or my horrible taste in music) just because something is uncool or unaccepted (or overly accepted) by society at large. *
The second you compromise your principles is the second that your life becomes somebody else's.
* Unless money is involved. Then I'll compromise absolutely everything.