Caught by the River

Caught by the Reaper – Lou Reed

3rd November 2013


You’ll have heard the news already I guess but, yes, Lou Reed died this week. Complications caused by a liver transplant. The news hit our social networks like feedback, gale force 10. Lou meant something, Lou is eternal, Lou is dead. If it’s of any interest, I played Live ’69. What Goes On.

Unlike obituarist Richard Williams, I came to Lou later – in the Seventies, solo, and through those that he had inspired, I found the Velvets. Here’s a few words that sum up what I mean, they come from a guy, just a little older than me who Lou made an impact on and who, in turn, made a huge impact on me (JB):

Vic Godard:
Along with many other teenagers of my generation I became aware of Lou Reed thanks to David Bowie. I came across various bootlegs of Bowie’s early 70’s concerts that included ‘White Light/White Heat’ and ‘Waiting For The Man’, then I heard the Velvet Underground’s own version of the latter on a French radio station and I was enthralled.

I first saw Lou Reed perform live at the Valley Charlton in May 1974. The crowd were mostly people my friends and I would have referred to as greasers and hippies who were there to see the likes of The Who etc. and they were not impressed – it became too dangerous to stay near the stage after a hail of bottles and other missiles rained over us soon after Lou arrived on stage – Proto-Punk. Calm was restored as we departed to the strains of Bad Company. Although I didn’t like the heavy guitar sound of his backing group I thought Lou Reed’s songs were so good that I went to see him again three weeks later at The Rainbow. At both gigs the same magical moment stood out for me when after a lengthy, overblown guitar intro both guitarists slid into the ‘Sweet Jane’ riff and Lou Reed bounded on to the stage.

Roll on two years to 1976 and me and a couple of friends decided to form a group but we had no idea what instruments to play and I happened to buy a bass guitar. The first song I learned was ‘Waiting For The Man’, mostly because there are only two notes in the main section, it also seriously influenced the first song I wrote for Subway Sect ‘Don’t Split It’. The early Subway Sect sound was inspired by the Velvet Underground and our first live performance at a party in 1976 included a ramshackle ‘White Light/White Heat.

I still get a thrill from singing Lou Reed’s songs to this day and he will continue to be the guiding light for many songwriters.


Some notable tributes to Lou Reed that have been published elsewhere:

“For my generation, the one that grew up on and grew up with guitars in the second half of the 1980s, it felt as if the Velvet Underground were our contemporaries.” Richard King for Domino Records; “She started dancing to that fine, fine music.” Kevin Pearce from 2001 and, finally, “For Lou Reed” by Laurie Anderson.