Lou Reed

Every now and then, I get asked what kind of music I like, or who is my favourite music artist. I don’t have any straightforward answer to that. It’s not only that I’m long past the age when everything was a competition, or that I see no point in restricting myself to a single “favourite” artist or genre. It’s that I don’t really think of my relationship with music in those terms.

I may “like” a catchy tune and forget it a few minutes later. The music that etches a deeper groove does more than that. It might channel my emotions, counterpoint them, transcend them. It might engage me intellectually. It might provoke, question, irritate. It might be cool as an ice-covered cucumber straight out of the freezer, or it might sing its heart out, magnificent in its abandon. It might fall short of its apparent aims, but remain fascinating in its failure. I connect with different music pieces in different ways, each one unique, irreplaceable, impossible to reduce to the simple notion of “liking.”

I’m not nostalgic by default for every piece of music from my youth. I enjoyed it well enough then, back when I was still into making lists of favourites; or if I didn’t, I criticized it passionately. As I grew up, much of it fell by the wayside, now covered by the dust of indifference.

But not all. Some of it went deeper, growing into me as I got older, becoming part of who I am. As a naive, uncool teenager with a very limited command of English, I fell for it based more on a hunch than any real understanding; still, it got me hooked, then drove me to learn more, molding me along the way. In time, I became more knowledgeable and critical. I found out what the English lyrics meant. I got past the stage where a “favourite” artist could do no wrong. But, because this music had become so entwined with who I was, I cannot be entirely objective about it even now, not any more than I could be about myself. Whether I “like” it is beside the point. I don’t even always listen to it that often now. I don’t have to.

Lou Reed died today, at the age of 71. I only saw him live once, at a Neil Young tribute concert here in 2010 during the Winter Olympics. He did one or two songs, somewhat perfunctorily; it was Elvis Costello who stole that show. Laurie Anderson was in town, too, performing “Delusion” at the Playhouse. Just before the show began, Lou came in through a service door right by where I was sitting. I just stared, openly. Then someone found him a seat by the aisle in the center. The guy next to him must have recognized him, too; after the performance, they shook hands, then Lou left quickly. I remember his face looking much more wrinkled than it did in photos.

RIP. And thank you.

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