I was on the train to work this morning when I read of Lou Reed’s passing.
I had stayed up late the night before: re-reading Venkatesh Rao’s Gervais Principle series, and playing Husker Du’s album The Living End (1994). Re-reading Rao, I condensed my on-going research down to one core Need: time to write. Tiredly, I checked my email, and scrolled my Facebook feed. Friends were posting Reed’s lyrics and photos.
Others will have more memorable Lou Reed anecdotes than me. I first heard his music around 1983 interspersed between the Australian bands AC/DC, INXS, and Midnight Oil. The Velvet Underground reformed whilst I saw Andy Warhol’s underground films in college. I never saw Reed live. Instead, I saw him via his allies: playing on cable TV for David Bowie’s 50th birthday special, or as an on-screen sample when U2 played ‘Satellite of Love’ during their 1991-93 ZooTV tour.
We can learn a couple of things from Reed’s life and passing:
First, the aesthetic and cultural forces that informed the mid-20th century were vast. If you situate The Velvet Underground as an epochal band — or at least synonymous with an era of hedonistic Self-exploration — then you have a larger viewpoint to Understand the drive for artistic creativity. Reed’s collaborations with John Cale, Nico, and Andy Warhol are instructive.
Second, Reed had initiatory allies — his muse Laurie Anderson, David Bowie, Bono, and others. We also see this with other artists and creative spirits: Aleister Crowley and his followers; H.P. Lovecraft and his Arkham House publisher August Derleth; or the painter Salvador Dali. Having initiatory allies can mean that our Work continues after our death, and that our legacy is preserved, rather than being scattered.
Third, Reed’s music is generative in a deeply cultural sense. The New Yorker‘s Sasha Frere-Jones notes that Reed’s music inspired many other musicians, artists, writers, and even life-changing decisions. This what the Egyptians call Heka (or magic) at its most pure: Reed was Sending his future Selves with each new song to Change the objective universe. This has led to all sorts of collaborations, influences, and interactions — ‘shaping’ effects or ‘causative willed change’ — which Reed could not have foreseen. It increased the amount of Unknown (Runa) and personal destiny (Wyrd) in the objective universe. This is where aesthetics can be more constructive to study than occulture.
Fourth, Reed’s passing is a reminder about death as Shock. We only have a certain time to do initiatory self-work: the Buddhist insight of impermanence. Our death will be an opportunity for initiatory allies and others to see our lives as a manifestation. Already, many bloggers, journalists and musicians have penned remembrances for Reed, citing his impact on their lives.
Perhaps you will have your own, similar artistic and creative impact on others’ lives.