SIDE NOTES: The Lou Reed Song That Changed Me
Our staff reflects on the music that the late legend left behind, and the songs and albums that had the most impact on them personally.
The music world is reeling from the news of legend Lou Reed’s death from a long-term battle with liver disease. He began his career as guitarist, vocalist, and songwriter for the Velvet Underground, a band that lacked commercial success but eventually developed a cult following that has made it one of the most influential rock bands of all time. Producer Brian Eno even said of the band: “The first Velvet Underground album record sold 30,000 copies in the first five years. I think everyone who bought one of those 30,000 copies started a band!” Reed went on to a successful solo career in 1972, releasing over twenty albums on his own.
"Street Hassle" is an eleven-minute-long rock opera featured on his 1978 album of the same name, an ode to Reed’s hometown New York City. On his live album Animal Serenade, Reed shared that he “wanted to write a monologue set to rock. Something that could have been written by William Burroughs, Hubert Selby, John Rechy, Tennessee Williams, Nelson Algren, maybe a little Raymond Chandler. You mix it all up and you have ‘Street Hassle.’”
The song is divided into three distinctive parts. The first part, “Waltzing Matilda,” illustrates a woman picking up a male prostitute. The second part, “Street Hassle,” describes, from a drug dealer’s perspective, the death of a woman from a drug overdose in his apartment. The last part, “Slipaway,” transforms the song into a dirge of sorts—Reed laments lost love, and the truth that life is full of sad songs. Reed’s writing carries a strength that turns these grotesque anecdotes into things that are oddly intimate, even touching. He captures the energy of New York City, the idea that it is a place that on any given day could dramatically change your life. And through that, Reed changed many of ours.