Mardell: The soundtrack to much of my life

Lou Reed meant so much. An unrelenting savage, seedy icon of the underbelly, a master storyteller, an incredible guitarist, (listen to See That My Grave is Kept Clean) and a careful craftsman of some of the finest songs of the last 50 years.

My introduction to Lou Reed was his 1972 masterpiece, Transformer, which almost (along with its producer David Bowie) invented glam.

I am still amazed that Walk on the Wild Side got played on the radio. I guess they didn't understand what it was about.

Make Up is just one of album's gems, but an important song. Beneath its funny lyrics and farting brass, it is a gentle, out of the closet anthem.

"When you get dressed I get my fill, people say it's impossible," was a courageous line back when they did say exactly that.

Mind you, Lou Reed hated the idea of being a campaigner. He later said he wanted to write a tune "Get back in the closet".

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But that album was just the first step. There was the back catalogue to explore.

The Velvet Underground awaited. They were a new revelation. It is perhaps hard now, when punk and garage are a quaint memory, to understand how that stripped down sound felt not just fresh, but shocking.

It wasn't just that the Velvets were rebellious. Everyone was a rebel back then. They were dark angels, celebrating perversity, punching through the trite and the light.

While the hippies on the West Coast sang about peace and love, and drifted around in a haze of dope smoke, Lou reed wrote paeans to heroin, masochism (like Venus in Furs) and disintegrating personality.

The music smashed together two conflicting styles that seemed impossible bedfellows.

There were gorgeous melodies, so delicate they seemed on the edge of breaking - songs like Sunday Morning and Candy Says.

Then the wild cacophony, the soaring feedback of The Black Angel's Death Song or the epic Sister Ray.

Divisive genius

In his solo career he never stood still. The album Berlin is so dreadful a story that someone, maybe Lou himself, said it should be locked away in a black box and buried.

The Kids ("They're taking her children away" complete with screams of "Mommy!!") is not exactly an easy listen, but it made any other attempt at "rock opera" seem pale.

And it just so happens the track Berlin is one of the most romantic songs ever written.

For some the blond-hair bulldog look and the heavy rock live albums might have been a mistake. I lapped it all up.

And there were many other moments when the critics held their noses with one hand and gave the thumbs down with the other.

But I adored the fat vibrant disco of Sally Can't Dance and its mordant lyrics about electro-shock treatment as much as the critics loathed them.

On Coney Island Baby Lou rediscovered his lyricism, just as Street Hassle found him back in New York, grim and vicious and deliciously funny.

His humour went under-appreciated. I remember one review of Rock and Roll Heart particularly annoyed me for pointing out that the line "Never danced on a bear skin rug, never taken drugs" wasn't exactly spot on. ( Although I don't know how the critics knew about the bear skin rug.)

But Reed wasn't even being ironic - he was telling a story, in character. It was often so.

I can't say I went a bundle on his later stuff. We grew apart. It happens. But thank you Lou, for providing the soundtrack to decades of my life, and never failing to surprise and excite.