Monday, October 28, 2013

Lou Reed and dark aesthetics

As you probably all heard, Lou Reed, one of the most influential figures of rock music has died yesterday. A lot of things were written about him and there were a lot of reactions to this huge loss of the music world. So, I just want to say what he personally meant to me. Not at all unexpected, it is related to his involvement with the Velvet Underground.

In my opinion, he was the second largest figure (first being Roy Orbison) in rock music that conveyed dark aesthetics to its listeners. The themes and lyrics of such songs as Venus in Furs (later covered by Krieg, which further proves my point), Heroin and Femme Fatale explore some very dark themes like addiction, sexual deviation and emotional pain, which certainly existed before and were probed by numerous bands and composers. However, in the music by the Velvet Underground these themes take a central role as opposed to some twiggy endeavors of other artists. Every composer of classic music, without exception, had his version of requiem. Thus, every one of them payed heed to the theme of death creating masterpieces of dark music. But these were never the main focus of their music. I'm not trying to denigrate any of those composers' accomplishments, because each of them (Rachmaninoff, Schnittke, Mozart, Chopin, Beethoven and others) were great at making personal music, but it never, strictly speaking, contributed to the whole movement of dark scene, as we call it these days. I may be wrong, but there were no wide-spread movements of lovers of grim aesthetics in the past, such as we had in the 80's and 90's. By releasing aforementioned songs in a cluster, it made the Velvet Underground one of the few bands that encapsulated the essence of what further became goth-rock, horror electro, black metal and other numerous music styles and artistic movements that constitute the whole of dismal, baleful aesthetics in general.

In addition to his music was Lou Reed's image. In combination with gloomy songs, his androgynous proto-gothic appearance (he used black nail polish, eyeliner and even lipstick)  made the effect of what later became inseparably intertwined into darkwave scene. His image was one of the first shifts towards dark aesthetics. Of course, there were others, who felt and expressed growing melancholy of the time, such as Peggy Lee with her highly underestimated album “Mirrors”, released in 1975. Alice Cooper, Black Sabbath, Kiss and other classic heavy metal bands were on their way too, but at large, their music was still bore positive, optimistic mood. Yes, they sang about some very tricky themes, but the real pain and darkness was rarely expressed at that time and existed in an inchoate state. When I listen to them, the overall perception is cheerful and happy.

So much for that. I think I made a point. I’m sure it is very tentative matter and everyone perceives music differently and many would say that I’m wrong, but again, as I said in the beginning it is just what I see in Lou Reed and the Velvet Underground and what I think about their significance and contribution to dark music scene. I’m sure Mr. Neil Jameson would agree with me at least to some extent.