It's tempting to quote from one of The Velvet Underground's last great tunes, the one where Lou Reed sang about a little girl in NYC whose "life was saved by rock and roll." Lou died today and left behind weird, arty rock songs that made a lot of people's lives a little less alienating. His music with the V.U. in particular appealed to kids who felt like outsiders or wished they lived in New York, kids who wanted to be cooler than they were, and kids for whom books and records were more than just entertainment.
Like many in my generation, I got into the Velvet Underground because R.E.M. talked up their music in pretty much every interview they gave and even covered three V.U. songs on their b-sides compilation Dead Letter Office. In ninth grade, I bought Lou's new solo record New York while home from school on Christmas break, I think with Christmas money, and found the snapshots of crack-era NYC vivid and compelling, though I was a kid from Ohio going away to school at a seminary (a life far from "Dirty Blvd."). But it was the old V.U. records--all four of the studio albums they made with Lou--that made the most impact: punk rock before it existed, art rock before anyone called it that, music that was at once highbrow and filthy.
Thanks, Lou, for the great songs. The "hits" (well, not really) like "Sweet Jane," the personal favorites like "Jesus" and "What Goes On," oddities like "Sister Ray." Here's to a career that was never boring.