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Lou Reed and John Tavener
Lou Reed and John Tavener
Last night I put on Palestrina's Mass for Papae Marcelli as a quiet and inadequate token of the loss I feel. Tavener has never been a go to composer - Mozart and Bach, with just occasionally Duke Ellington - but his works ( particularly the Protecting Veil ) impact on me like Messiaen. Is it something about the imminence of transcendence - a phrase I remember reading way back in the days that I read theology on the banks of the Cam. Was it Barth or Bultmann, I don't know now and maybe it doesn't matter.
Tavener lived most of his life with chronic ill-health and the knowledge of his own death. This Montaignian condition is what gives his music its keening sound. And yet there was also Tavener the playboy, the lover of fast cars and beautiful women. Such a paradox, and one which Lou Reed would have appreciated. Reed had his own Hegelian complexities. Was there ever an artist who was more European, and yet so American. Baudelaire and Rimbaud born again in an American body, with that most American name. In the years after my father died music took on an importance for me that has never gone away. I have no musical talent myself, and my family is not a musical one, and yet there was something about music that made sense of things which even now, over 40 years later, I cannot. Above all two records in the collection of my sister Sabra - Bridge Over Troubled Water - and Lou Reed's Transformer - became my sonic fixed points. I would pester her to play them, and she would oblige as she has always done in the decades that have followed.
I loved 'Walk on the Wild Side' the best. The throwaway sax and the doowop bits and pieces. In 1970's St Albans, Reed's New York was a magical shining city. When I first went to New York in the early 80's there was still a little of the dirt and the diamonds left in the Apple, but by the time of my last visit just after 9/11 the city had been karchered clean and now even the Chelsea Hotel is to be ripped up and apartmented. Lying in bed this morning I was reading last week's New Yorker and came across a wonderful lament for Lou by Patti Smith It felt personal as all our thoughts are of him. He was just that kind of a soul. And just as weed is said to be a gateway drug, so Lou was for me a gateway singer. Would I have liked the Doors without him? Without him there would have been no New York Dolls, and hence no punk, no Stranglers (another story), and no Clash. And above all his - we are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars. Would I have loved North London so much when I moved there in the mid-eightes. Lou gave me the fogs and dank mists of Kentish Town and Tufnell Park. They were wisps from his endless cigarettes.
Pete King introduced me to the Velvet Underground albums when he and Mark were living in their attic eerie behind Emmanuel, caddy corner from Parkers Piece. Then it was all about Nico's voice, and Cale's playing, but in time I came back to the songs and the songs were always Lou's.
Coda: If you wish to play Six degrees I can claim a two degree link to the Transformer.' My old friend Geoff worked on the production of the Velvet's last album. 'Who Loves the Sun' . Thanks to Lou we all do.
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