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Frizzi: Sweet Lou (Including the Three Minute Intro)

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We baby boomers are at the age when we're starting to lose people we've admired through life, whether we've met them personally or through their achievements. Many of those folks were 10 to 20 years older than us. Most of these folks gave their bodies a hard ride over time.

Their art, be it sport, music, comedy or the written word continues to live on. It's their legacy. And when you view it or listen to it, it takes you back to a certain time in your life.

That's what happened to me and countless others when Lou Reed died. The musician made it to 71, which was amazing considering the way he ravaged his body with smoke, drink and drugs back in the day. He'd been clean. He'd recently had a liver transplant. According to his doctor, Lou was fighting to stay alive and was doing his tai chi exercises within an hour of his death.

Most of us, I was 16 at the time, first heard of Lou Reed on the radio with his one and only Top 40 hit, "Walk On The Wild Side". It hit as high as number 16 on the charts in 1972. This tune was a stroll through the seamy underbelly of life where a guy plucked his eyebrows and became a girl, "Little Joe" was hustling and Jackie was speeding away. Meanwhile, "the colored girls were going Do-do-doo-do-doo-do-do-do." And this was the abbreviated version allowed on the air, which didn't include everybody's darling, Candy, and her "head games".

Everybody had the album, "Transformer", which was produced by David Bowie and Mick Ronson. You'd hear it at parties. I liked to announce my presence by driving up with the screeching guitar of "Vicious" blasting through tinny car speakers. We tried to tune our cheap guitars to Lou's "Ostrich Tuning" (all strings are tuned to the same chord). I bought the albums "Berlin", "Sally Can't Dance", "Coney Island Baby" and the live album "Rock and Roll Animal" with its great 3:20 intro to "Sweet Jane". Then, somebody played "Metal Machine Music", which introduced us unexpectedly to "noise music".

Being a late bloomer, I started to get into The Velvet Underground's "White Light, White Heat" about that time. Released in 1968, the album led off with "The Gift", a story told in spoken word about Waldo Jeffers and his ill fated attempt to visit his girlfriend by packing and sending himself in a cardboard box. "The Velvet Underground and Nico", co-produced by Andy Warhol and released in 1967, was rated by Rolling Stone magazine as 13th in their list of the 500 greatest albums of all time. It was the first album to mesh avant-garde with rock and roll. Side one began with the simple and melodic "Sunday Morning". Side two began with "Heroin", starting with a slow strumming of guitar and then picks up in tempo, simulating a heroin rush.

Whether with VU or by himself, Lou Reed's songs were a simple, gritty, stark and bleak look at life through society's misfits. He was a victim of homophobia. His parents sought to cure his bisexuality through shock therapy. He turned the horror into the song "Kill Your Sons", which appeared on "Sally Can't Dance".

Lou Reed appeared at the first Farm Aid concert, which was at Champaign, Illinois in 1985. A friend of mine offered me an extra ticket. I turned him down because I had plans to go out of town to meet some other friends. We spent the weekend watching the concert on MTV. My friend who did go to the show brought me back a T-shirt.

Facebook is basically a community newspaper. Most use it as a way to share with friends what you're doing, how you're feeling, what your grandkids look like and so on. Many share cartoons, jokes and recipes. I like to share music. If I have a song bouncing in my head, I'm prone to find it on YouTube and post it on Facebook. When Lou Reed died, we were all posting our favorite Lou Reed/Velvet Underground songs. I hadn't heard many of these songs in years. It felt good.

Lou Reed wasn't as well known to the masses as Lennon-McCartney, Jagger-Richards, Pete Townshend or David Bowie. But the music industry looks at him as a visionary. Lou's subject matter was more than provocative. It was grimly realistic and honest. His music was innovative, groundbreaking in its raw minimalism. "Heroin" was just two notes. The Velvet Underground was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1996. They are the sperm donors to the punk, glam and New Wave music that followed.

Reed described his minimalism with this quote: "One chord is fine. Two chords are pushing it. Three chords and you're into jazz."

In an interview with Kristine McKenna, Reed stated, "I've always believed that there's an amazing number of things you can do through a rock 'n' roll song. And that you can do serious writing in a rock song if you can somehow do it without losing the beat. The things I've written about wouldn't be considered a big deal if they appeared in a book or movie."

One of Reed's musical contemporaries, Brian Eno, summed it up as such: "The first Velvet Underground record sold 30,000 copies in the first five years. I think everyone who bought one of those 30,000 copies started a band!"

That a pretty good legacy in anybody's book.

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About the Author
Donn Frizzi is a well-traveled man, if you consider Pennsylvania to southern Indiana to Texas and finally Peoria to be the definition of well traveled. But in each of his stops he gained certain insights that make him who he is — including a Pirates and Rangers fan who must travel to St. Louis to watch quality baseball without buying a plane ticket. Poetic justice, perhaps? A talented writer, Donn also can make a good point by putting pencil to paper and drawing with satirical splendor. We’re hoping to persuade him to grace our website with an occasional toon, as well.