So, if this was a normal Halloween, I would be writing about all the upcoming Halloween music events but when a musical legend dies, it’s the duty of the music fan to pay tribute. This last Sunday morning, we lost probably one of the most influential musicians of the past 40 years and an artist that had a tremendous impact on me: Lou Reed.
Any fan of “alternative” music owes a huge debt to Reed. Starting his musical career in the era of “free love” and psychedelia, Reed was churning out discordant, droning songs about violence, hard drugs and life on the streets of New York City; far removed from what was going on in hippy meccas like London or San Francisco. Reed believed that rock and roll could push boundaries and challenge audiences just like the literature of the Beat Generation or the art of the avant garde.
Therefore, it’s not surprising that he found a confidante and ally in Andy Warhol, who took Reed’s band the Velvet Underground under his wing, giving them a home at his Factory, an entourage of “superstar” fans and a dark, surreal aesthetic that struck a deep resonating chord for the music fans that would later develop the punk ethos. The famous saying goes that the first Velvet Underground album sold very few copies, but everyone that bought it, formed a band.
After the demise of the Velvet Underground, Reed continued to experiment, creating the proto-industrial record Metal Machine Music, penning probably the first Top 40 hit about transsexuals (“Walk on the Wild Side”) and becoming a major influence and star of the glam rock scene of the early 70s. Of course, by the mid-1970s punk was in full swing and Reed was regularly credited as one of the founders. His songs were covered by bands like Joy Division, The Modern Lovers, Slaughter and the Dogs and Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, who all obviously owed a huge debt to Reed and the Velvet Underground.
Reed continued to make challenging music up until his death on Sunday, collaborating with Metallica and the Gorillaz, among others. Needless to say, the music world is a lot emptier without his presence and for this week’s Mid-Week Beat, I thought I’d highlight shows and musicians that owe a debt to Mr. Reed and the music he created. Thanks for everything Lou. We’ll miss you.
Thursday, October 31 I All Hallows Eve at the Haunted Theater w/ Hedwig and the Angry Inch – Seattle, Washington
Lou Reed was probably the first rock musician to openly declare himself bi-sexual and to explore the idea of sexual androgyny. So, it’s safe to say that, had there been no Lou Reed, then there also wouldn’t have been Hedwig and the Angry Inch.
Hedwig and the Angry Inch started as a rock musical written my James Cameron Mitchell and scored by Stephen Trask. The play premièred in 1998 in New York and followed an East German transexual rock star Hedwig and his band The Angry Inch. The play’s music is steeped in the androgynous 1970s glam rock era of David Bowie and early punk godfathers like Reed and Iggy Pop.
The play was an instant cult classic and was made into a celebrated film in 2001. Since then, countless cover bands have formed and tomorrow, Halloween, one such band will be performing in Seattle at the Columbia City Theater with the Talking Deads, an all-zombie Talking Heads tribute band, and The Dee Dee‘s, an all-female Ramones tribute band. So, certainly, all the original bands that these bands pay tribute to are seriously indebted to Mr. Lou Reed. This should be a great show and I highly recommend you get tickets now.
Thursday, November 14 I Music Craft: David Bowie – Seattle, Washington
Without a doubt, the Velvet Underground had a deep impact on British singer/songwriter David Jones, who would later famously change his name to David Bowie.
In the mid-60s band, Bowie played in a short-lived band called The Riot Squad who covered VU songs and later on he would not only adopt an androgynous alter-ego with Ziggy Stardust, but would also produce Reed’s groundbreaking 1972 album, Transformer, which included the hit “Walk on the Wild Side” and two other of his most beloved songs, “Perfect Day” and “Satellite of Love,” providing back-up vocals to the latter.
On Thursday, November 14, Northwest Film Forum will screen David Bowie and the Story of Ziggy Stardust, the unseen BBC documentary that tracks the beginnings of Ziggy and how he transformed art into fashion. Many new and unforgettable interviews from the original Spiders personnel are included in the film. As it documented this formative process for Bowie, the BBC hit on the key to his genius. Part of Music Craft, Northwest Film Forum’s ongoing series featuring rare concert footage from music legends. I’m betting Reed’s name will come up once or twice.
Saturday, November 23 I Mary Gauthier – Bellingham, Washington
Like Lou Reed, Mary Gauthier draws her lyrical inspiration from those living on the outer fringes of society. While Reed wrote about the junkies, drag queens and hipsters that surrounded him in mid-60s Manahattan, Gauthier writes about the junkies, drag queens and drunks that surrounded her in the halfway houses and flea bag motels of rural Louisiana.
Like Reed, Gauthier struggled with her sexuality at a young age. Reed received electro-shock therapy in the mid-50s as an attempt to “cure” his bisexuality and Gauthier ran away from her adopted Italian-Catholic parents at 15, escaping certain persecution for her sexual identity. Like Reed, Gauthier turned to drugs and alcohol as an escape and it was her experiences as a young, drug-addicted runaway that fuelled many of her celebrated early songs like “I Drink” and “Drag Queens in Limousines.”
Gauthier got sober in 1990 at the age of 35, after being arrested for drunk driving, and dedicated her life to songwriting. The result has been 9 albums full of raw, honest and heartbreakingly beautiful American folk music that has been praised by the likes of Tom Waits, Bob Dylan and Jimmy Buffet.
Gauthier will be gracing the stage of The Green Frog on Saturday, November 23rd in Bellingham, Washington and we encourage everyone in the area to pick up tickets and check out one of the most compelling Americana artists of our time.