Lessons Lou Reed Taught Me About Life and Death

by Bill Brenner on November 22, 2014

Life’s like Sanskrit read to a pony
I see you in my mind’s eye strangling on your tongue
What good is knowing such devotion
I’ve been around, I know what makes things run

What’s good? Life’s good
But not fair at all

–Lou Reed

When my addictive impulses were at their worst and I felt like I’d never regain control, I found comfort in an unlikely album: The Velvet Underground & Nico. Songs like “Heroin” and “The Black Angel’s Death Song” touched the core of my soul, where, it turned out, I had a big, gaping hole.

The music didn’t inspire me to stop my spiral into self-destruction, but it did inspire me to start exploring the roots of my unhappiness.

Mood music:

I first discovered that album when I was living in Lynnfield, Mass., and my old band, Skeptic Slang, had carved out rehearsal space in a room under the garage. On nights when we weren’t practicing, I’d sit in an easy chair I had in the room, with the lights off and candles lit, reading Between Thought and Expression: Selected Lyrics of Lou Reed. That same year, when Erin and I first started going out, she introduced me to Lou Reed’s Magic and Loss album, inspired by the illnesses and eventual deaths of two friends.

Here’s the title track from that album:

To me, Magic and Loss was a lesson in identifying the beauty that accompanies the not-so-good things in life.

It had been years since I listened to his music. But amid his death last year, I found myself re-exploring it. In more recent weeks, I’ve found myself once again drawn to it, as I work my way through a period of depression and uncertainty.

Thanks for your music and wisdom, Lou.

I’ll end with some of the lyrics to the title track of “Magic and Loss,” which may well be the clearest perspective of life’s terrors and triumphs out there:

When you pass through the fire, you pass through humble
You pass through a maze of self-doubt
When you pass through humble, the lights can blind you
Some people never figure that out

You pass through arrogance, you pass through hurt
You pass through an ever-present past
And it’s best not to wait for luck to save you
Pass through the fire to the light

lou reed

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