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Dobie: Remembering Lou Reed and his insightful observations about New York

Lou Reed performs in concert in 1997.

Lou Reed performs in concert in 1997. Credit: AP, 1997

I sat in my backroom last night listening to “Walk on the Wild Side.” And “Sweet Jane.” And “Dirty Blvd.” And “Perfect Day.”

Hard to believe Lou Reed is dead.

Whatever his health, whatever his history of hard living, Lou seemed much like the New York City he so deftly chronicled — battered but never beaten, rough on the edges but so soulful inside. He was royalty (of the rock variety) and he was every common man.

To teenagers growing up in the suburbs in the early 1970s, Lou Reed was everything we could not be. He was a metaphorical walk on the wild side. He lived in and wrote about a world we could never know, a world both scary and alluring. He was danger, and he was cool. Nobody was cooler than Lou Reed.

He never could sing much. Which was both beside the point AND the point. His spare delivery reflected the harshness of life in the city, and forced the listener to focus on his lyrics. And he could write. Oh, could he write. He grew up in Freeport, but New York City never has had a more insightful chronicler.

I never saw him perform live. I’ll always regret that.

His debut album fronting The Velvet Underground, though not a financial success, is considered one of the most influential rock albums of all time; musician/producer Brian Eno once famously observed that every one of the 30,000 people who bought the album started a band on their own.

The songs Lou left us are startling for their depth and their range. Nothing — then or now — sounds like “Walk on the Wild Side.” The live version of “Sweet Jane” still is one of the greatest live rock ‘n’ roll recordings you’ll ever hear. “Perfect Day” — whether the subject was romance or heroin — is sweet nostalgia. “Heroin” is a love-hate dance of ambiguity. The entire “New York” album is anger unleashed.

And then there is “Rock & Roll.” Once of Lou’s earliest compositions, it’s the story of a bored 5-year-old named Jenny, who discovers a New York radio station and couldn’t believe what she heard at all. She started dancing to the fine-fine music and found her life was saved by rock ‘n’ roll.

Back at you, Lou.