It’s Lou Reed’s birthday today -- he would’ve been 79 years old. Still young enough to hobble on stage, though considering his controversial body of work, maybe it’s better that he’s no longer with us, for this modern world would not have taken kindly to our misunderstood anti-hero. After all, Lou wrote almost exclusively about addicts, street urchins, rent boys, transsexuals, junkies, whores, poverty, death, race, and drugs -- lots of lyrics about drugs. All troublesome source material with enough controversy to 'cancel' him for several lifetimes.
That said, Lou wrote about a lot of wonderful things, too -- things like love, hope, optimism, relationships, beautiful women, and also drugs, but they usually played smaller parts in his same songs about the aforementioned addicts, street urchins, rent boys, transsexuals, junkies, whores, poverty, death, race, and drugs.
Lou had a knack for that though. Somehow he was able to observe the ugliness of life along with its beauty, mash it all together, and produce narratives set to music with rough exteriors and soft, warm, gooey centers. After all, that’s what life is, right? The good and the bad, the light and the dark. Imagine if life was like a Red Hot Chili Peppers song. A life modeled after “Venus in Furs” sounds far more interesting.
Even though Lou is considered one of our greatest storytellers up there with the likes of heavy hitters such as Chandler, Burroughs, Joyce, Shakespeare, and of course Delmore Schwartz, he’d be considered triggering and problematic if his music was created today.
Would Lou have escaped cancellation in 2021? It’s doubtful. Today is also Dr. Seuss’s birthday, another celebrated American writer. Theodor Seuss "Ted" Geisel -- author of The Cat in the Hat, Green Eggs and Ham, The Lorax, and How the Grinch Stole Christmas -- is being cancelled as I write this sentence.
As of this morning, six of Dr. Seuss books will no longer be published because they "portray people in ways that are hurtful and wrong.” If Dr. Suess is being cancelled for referring to a Japanese character “a Japanese” standing atop Mount Fuji, what chance would Lou Reed have when he mumbled, "And the colored girls say, 'Doo, doo-doo, doo-doo, doo-doo-doo'?” (Even though he stopped using the word colored sometime around the ‘00s in concert because he realized that the word might offend.)
It should also be noted that Dr. Seuss died in 1991 -- that’s 30 years ago. It just goes to show you that no artist -- even Lou -- is safe. Dead or alive, if a writer’s work has offended anyone (whether the intentions were artistic or not), their legacy is one tweet away from becoming null and void.
If and when Lou Reed's memory is cancelled, one if not all of these songs will be mentioned in the explanation as to why Lou Reed should not be celebrated:
A tale about seedy love, drug addiction (among other addictions), and death. People probably wouldn’t favor the idea of a young man leaving his dead girlfriend on the street after she OD’d.
Walk on the Wild Side
Doo, doo-doo, doo-doo, doo-doo-doo...
Lou spends most “The Kids” listing the shortcomings of a woman, calling her "that miserable, rotten slut!" There’s also the rumor that producer Bob Ezrin used his own kids, David and Josh, for the sounds of the children crying, recording them after he told them their mother had died.
There She Goes Again
In “There She Goes Again,” Lou observes that his friend’s girlfriend is going back out on the streets to sell her body. Lou suggests to his friend that he stops her from such behavior, encouraging him to “hit her.” Uh... classic Lou.
This whole song is a potential powder keg, but "I'm a woman who likes men… I beg you to degrade me… Please spit in my mouth" kind of says it all.
More troublesome songs by Lou:
Main Photo: Kelsey Joan Louis / Flickr