I am a regular listener of Reed and, particularly, the Velvet Underground. I never tire of their music, the lyrics he often penned, and the style that he/they experimented with. White Light/White Heat is one of my favorite albums of all time and, Loaded is another that I play frequently. Something about his voice, his storytelling, his insistence that you should be able to talk about anything in music, for any length of time. True love.
I think that's what I liked most about him. His willingness to talk about anything.
I love his music, don't get me wrong, but I wouldn't say it intertwines with my life in ways that others have written about in the days since he passed. And while I've been listening to his words pretty much non-stop since Sunday--because this is what I do, apparently, when a musician that speaks to me, dies.
I think the reason that I cried and cried so long/hard is because Lou Reed breaks my heart.
For years I listened to the Velvet Underground and felt a sort of kinship with this lonely, sad, non-trusting, but also very trusting in the places and people he spoke of, which made him happy, kind of guy. I had no idea that he ever identified as bisexual. I came across this in my first reading of Transformer, a biography of Lou Reed, which focuses on his "coming out" as bisexual as a teenager and how his parents--perhaps for all sorts of reasons/decisions, but mainly to cure him of his homosexual tendencies--put him in a mental hospital where he endured and survived electroshock therapy. A common "cure" in 1956.
The first time I read about it I had to stop reading it, I was a bit torn up. Not just about Reed's experience, but the experience of many who were subjected to and survived the same kind of abuse by their parents, peers, the State. In an effort to normalize, correct, and erase. Not just queers, either, but for this post, only. Perhaps it's because I decided to watch A Single Man again, the Tom Ford adaptation of Christopher Isherwood's novel, but it got me thinking, again, about the things we've endured. The things we've survived. The things that we currently seem to turn away from, try to forget now that we're 'free.' His story reminds me of Leslie Feinberg's writing, of Dorothy Allison's.
And these are just the white folks...knowing the ways that queer people of color endured similar, worse, because of the links between race and (hyper)sexuality, but that's another post.
What I love about Reed is his willingness to speak about it--his sexuality, the ways he felt like he hated the world and loved it at the same time. He used music as a platform for his outside the bounds expression, which included his sexuality, and his abuse. And his directness, as demonstrated in his 1974 song, "Kill Your Sons," which detailed his experiences in the mental health system:
"All your two-bit psychiatrists
are giving you electroshock
They said, they'd let you live at home with mom and dad
instead of mental hospitals
But every time you tried to read a book
you couldn't get to page 17
'Cause you forgot where you were
so you couldn't even readDon't you know they're gonna kill your sons
don't you know gonna kill, kill your sons
They're gonna kill, kill your sons
until they run, run, run, run, run, run, run, run away"
A true indictment 1) of the abuse he endured yes, but also 2) an indictment to keep living, which I find in so many of his lyrics. It also, apparently, didn't correct his tendencies, as evidenced by his music, but also his relationship with a lover, Rachel, who identified as transgender. About whom he said,
"Rachel knows how to do it for me. No one else ever did before. Rachel’s something else.”
That didn't last for long, it seems, after three or four years of openly living with and defending his relationship, Reed claimed that he was through "with this faggot shit." Again, heartbreaking, but not surprising. And there's more to say about his relationship with Rachel, his discarding of her, and the many of us who never gave up that "faggot shit," endured and lived much more. But, it still breaks my heart. Not so much in the "he didn't get to live his gay life," sense, as a pithy The Advocate article questions--what is this "perhaps" bisexual? Again, with the failure to acknowledge the possibility of bisexuality--but the unhappiness and loneliness that seemed to structure so much of his life. (Um, Laurie Anderson changed that, it appears. And, come on, who wouldn't be happy being married to Laurie Anderson?).
It's a loneliness that I've sung along to, many of us did. A loneliness that was transformed into happiness, recognition, and love.
And, as he asked in VU's "Beginning to See the Light" from their self-titled 1969 album, how does it feel? To be loved. A question I'm glad he and we got to ask. And got to feel.
So, rest in peace Lou Reed. You've given me much to think about. <3 nbsp="" p="">