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Lou Reed

My story collection Where the Marshland Came To Flower wouldn't exist without Lou Reed.

The genesis of the collection came to me on my morning train ride into work, sometime during 2007. As the Rock Island District train slowed for one of its stops on the far South Side, the canned intercom voiced intoned, "Next stop, Washington Heights." Though I had ridden that train and heard that announcement many times, that morning it immediately reminded me of Reed's song "Halloween Parade", and its offhand reference to "a crack team from Washington Heights." For years, though, I misheard "crack team" as "crack tune", which I assumed was some street name for a crack addict. (Tune as in Loony Tunes, or someone who's loony on crack.) It wasn't until I later checked the lyric sheet that I discovered my error, but by then I had already begun writing a story about a (presumed) crackhead on a late-evening train who disrupts a conversation between two suburb-bound businessmen.

As that story (which ultimately came to be called "Disappearing Into the Night") developed, I began to contemplate a bigger project: a collection of stories, each set in a different Chicago neighborhood and each inspired by the fourteen songs on New York, Reed's great 1989 album on which "Halloween Parade" appeared. Although my subject matter was entirely different from Reed's subjects (nary a transvestite or drug addict in sight), at first each of my stories included a specific line or two of Reed's lyrics. During subsequent editing I relaxed the use of explicit quotes, and instead merely paraphrased most of the inspiration lyrics. The one notable exception to this is the final story, "The Bells Will Ring For You", the title of which is a direct quote from "Dime Store Mystery", Reed's elegy to Andy Warhol that concludes New York. Besides that quote (the full line of which was "At the funeral tomorrow, at St. Patrick's, the bells will ring for you"), I also kept the Catholic church reference, though I translated the New York St. Patrick's to Old St. Pat's on Chicago's West Side, where my protagonist, the devout Ed Cullen, made daily confession for decades. Despite the removal of most of the explicit lyrical references, my Marshland stories are still very much responses to Reed's songs on New York - sometimes confirming his ideas, but sometimes refuting.

Beyond being the inspiration for my book, I'm grateful to Lou Reed simply for the decades of great music: bold, daring, compassionate, perceptive and brutally honest lyrics, delivered in his unmistakeable sing-speak voice and usually backed by that most basic of rock and roll instrumentation: two guitars, bass, drums. Though I deeply admire his work, I am far from a Reed completist - I own just three of his solo albums and one Velvet Underground album, and am only casually familiar with half a dozen others; the one upside to his passing is that it has driven me to seek out more of his work, and there's plenty there with him having been so productive for so long. But most of his music that I've experienced endlessly amazes me: New York, the angry portrait of his hometown; Magic and Loss, his ponderous reflections on dying and grief; Legendary Hearts, the unappreciated 1983 gem ("Betrayed" still gives me shivers, twenty years after I first heard it); The Velvet Underground and Nico, the audacious VU debut. Incomparable songs from scattered albums: "Sweet Jane, "Rock and Roll", "Turn to Me", "New Sensations", "Set the Twilight Reeling", "Caroline Says." And his 1996 concert at the Rosemont Theater remains one of the best I've ever seen.

For me, Lou Reed is a constant reminder to be fearless, original, non-complacent. To accept people for who they are instead of who you want them to be. To refuse to accept the status quo or anything less than the best from yourself. For those reminders, and that thrilling, thought-provoking and vital music, I will forever be indebted to him. Rest well, sir.

November 1, 2013 in Marshland, Music | Permalink


Great post! I love these kinds of genesis stories.

Posted by: Paul at Nov 1, 2013 9:57:40 AM