I remember the first time I saw Lou Reed. It was Live Aid. I was seven. My dad had run an extension cord out to the garden so we could watch our portable tv in the garden. I can't remember why he did this exactly, but if you spend enough time around my father you know that crazy whims rule. The first noteworthy thing about Lou was he was solo, no backing band, he didn't even have a head on his guitar. He played protracted songs about whales, that even I could tell were utter bilge back then. My main thought was "This man had obviously done something really, really good so people would let him play such bad songs on this massive stage".
That really, really good thing was The Velvet Underground.
Anyone who has been in a band, even just a made up band at school for five minutes, knows a really great band is a rare act of chemistry, something so subtle and mysterious, it's not as if it is more than the sum of it's parts, it's the sum of it's parts and then a giant pink angel cloud hanging in the ether just above the band's heads. If something upsets that chemistry, even in the most oblique ways, it is devastating. Take The Rolling Stones for instance, in the 60's they were genuinely electric, most people wouldn't think that the sacking of a drugged up Christopher Robin-a-like would affect the band dramatically, WRONG! Cue the 70's and The Stones become skaghead pub rockers in a Nazi castle. None of the Velvets ever did anything before or since that rivalled their brief tenure in the world's coolest band ever. Lou was a sub par rock guitarist and a beat poet with no off switch, but in The Velvet Underground he was great - playing junkie travelogues over deathly dirges or with Nico intoning his words over the prettiest of pretty music.
Ultimately he became a self parody, a grumpy, mulleted tortoise trapped in the holding pattern of 'return to form' like so many old rockers that the broadsheets love. How I will remember him is not this incarnation, nor in his rail thin 60's hey day, but as an old man trying to pull porcelain arts marionette, Lauren Laverne: