In reducing rock-and-roll to its harshest essentials, the new wave took Lou Reed’s aesthete-punk conceit to a place he never intended. For the Velvets the aesthete-punk stance was a way of surviving in a world that was out to kill you; the point was not to glorify the punk, or even to say fuck you to the world, but to be honest about the strategies people adopt in a desperate situation. The Velvets were not nihilists but moralists. In their universe nihilism regularly appears as a vivid but unholy temptation, love and its attendant vulnerability as scary and poignant imperatives. Though Lou Reed rejected optimism, he was enough of his time to crave transcendence. And finally—as “Rock & Roll” makes explicit—the Velvets’ use of a mass art form was a metaphor for transcendence, for connection, for resistance to solipsism and despair.
These sentences, from Ellen Willis’ essay “The Velvet Underground,” are exactly how I want to remember Lou Reed. The piece originally appeared in Greil Marcus’ ‘Stranded’ collection, but is reprinted in ‘Out of the Vinyl Deeps,’ the anthology of Willis’ music criticism edited by Nona Willis Aronowitz. (via judyxberman