Lou Reed has physically departed, though thankfully he left his soul in his music. Because of this, we can all hear and connect with him whenever we turn on one of his CDs. Upon his passing, many people have written articles to acknowledge the many ways in which Lou Reed influenced rock music. Even if some of the artists did not publicly acknowledge him as an influence, his own influence can be felt. Reed’s ability to write about the darker, previously unacknowledged topics about life have been monumental to the music scene. He did have a “stripped down” style (his well-known quote is, “One chord is fine, two chords are pushing it. Three chords and you’re into jazz.”), but that never meant that he sacrificed truth and honesty in order to be simple. It wasn’t that he was afraid of complexity in music (just listen to his albums Berlin or Street Hassle), but that he did not need to hide behind complex music in order to make up for a lack in lyrical content. His songs had their own power, and as such he didn’t need to dress them up.
Personally, it seems that there can be lessons learned from many of the things that he said and did, including an interview. The interview below was conducted in 2003 with Charlie Rose. Though there are many notable interviews that he has made, what I like about this one is that it looks back on his career (up to that point) and Reed seems calm and fully in his element. Here are the five lessons that any writer can learn from this interview and, more importantly, his career:
1. Share Your Truth
This first one comes from Laurie Anderson, but her observation on Lou Reed’s music is accurate. She mentions the power of Reed’s music. As discussed somewhat above, Reed’s style was seen as simplistic and blunt, but Laurie Anderson (along with many others) found the beauty in that. Though some of the issues that he wrote about were considered shocking, Reed never seemed like the type to write about darker subjects just to shock people or to promote higher album sales. Regardless, this is not what gives Reed’s lyrics the longevity that they have. That comes from the fact that Reed wrote about his own truth, as he knew it to be. When you write your own truth, you can’t be wrong.
2. To Be Great, Find the Greats
Even Lou Reed had a mentor. In this interview, he expresses his admiration for the artists Delmore Schwartz and Andy Warhol (and, later on, Laurie Anderson). Delmore especially seemed to have been an especially prominent figure in his life, as he was Reed’s teacher and mentor at Syracuse University. In this interview, he expresses how much he felt that he was influenced by the way that Delmore wrote. Warhol also seemed to be important because of the alternative ways that Warhol viewed life. This leads into the third point.
3. Don’t Be Afraid to Think Differently
In school, there is a lot of emphasize on conformity in thought. This seems especially true with any discipline of interpretations. There are “right” and “wrong” ways to view something, or so the categorizations go. In some cases, this makes sense. A math equation like “2+2” does not equal 17 just because the interpreter felt that it should be, nor can flowing, liquid water (as opposed to solid ice, which is another form of water) be considered a solid just because a student liked the idea. However, when writing, the rules are more flexible and accommodating. In fact, beyond basic grammar conventions, there really aren’t that many rules for “how” one is supposed to write (though there are plenty of tips). Thinking like everyone else provides less risk of social embarrassment, but thinking differently could also lead you to heights few would have reached, especially if they were too preoccupied with pretending to be normal (and it is pretending because, really, there is no such thing as normal).
4. Expect Work
It’s not just enough to have alternative thoughts and dreams of being a writer, however. It also means actually putting pen to paper. Besides discussing Andy Warhol’s strict work ethic (Warhol was apparently appalled when Reed once told him that he had “only” written five days in a day), Lou Reed and Laurie Anderson admit in this interview that all the artists they know work a lot. Lou Reed also mentions how a composition of a song, even if it just takes five minutes to write down, usually took much longer to form and fully express itself in his head. Though the arts are known for creative pulses and impulses, it is also a field, just like any other, where constant work leads to the most success (with success in this instance being defined as the completion of the inner vision).
5. Love Your Art
If you don’t have passion for the arts, dedicating yourself to a career in it is only going to take you so far. Reed and Anderson both seem to display a palpable energy for what they are doing. Reed discusses performing and his eyes brighten and warm. Though he did not say it in this specific interview, he is known for saying, “The most important part of my religion is to play guitar.” When one is stuck in the work and process of creating, remember why you are doing what you are doing. It may just provide you with the fuel you need to keep on going forward (or, in some cases, the fuel to tear down everything you just wrote, and start over again). The stronger your reason, the more powerful your fuel will be.
Of course, there are many more lessons that Lou Reed can teach people. These are just five that come from a twenty-six minute interview. If you have any additional thoughts, feel free to write them down below.
*Photo Courtesy of deathandtaxesmag.com.