Reed's wild, wild walk

Lou Reed

There is a famous saying about American rock icon Lou Reed's seminal 1960s band The Velvet Underground - only 30,000 people bought their first album but all 30,000 of them formed their own bands.

Some of these bands can be found right here because Reed, who died on Sunday, made quite an impact on the pioneering generation of home-grown musicians in the alternative rock scene in Singapore.

That was how influential The Velvet Underground were, for their devastatingly effective simplicity, their tackling of dark and risque themes, and their daring experimentalism as part of the New York pop art scene.

DJ, singer and songwriter Chris Ho calls Reed the "great teacher of my rock 'n' roll ways" as well as a "big moulder of my singing voice".

Ho's early 1980s new wave band Transformer, credited as being one of the local music scene's earliest alternative rock bands, was named after Reed's acclaimed 1972 solo album.

He says: "He was my patron saint of rock 'n' roll."

The marketing director of Universal Music Singapore, Mr Lim Teck Kheng, says Reed and The Velvet Underground refused to set limitations on themselves and were not afraid to experiment with their music.

"His death is a loss of a great legend who influenced generations of musicians and music fans," says Mr Lim, 42, who became an avid fan after he heard The Velvet Underground on Ho's radio show with then Singapore Broadcasting Corporation (SBC), now MediaCorp.

"I was still a teenager then. And almost three decades later, I still get excited whenever I put on music by Velvet Underground or from his solo albums."

Singer-songwriter and music producer Patrick Chng counts Reed among those who started him on the guitar and writing his own songs.

"Lou Reed wrote great songs such as Pale Blue Eyes and Femme Fatale around pretty conventional chord progressions. He was pure genius. It made me appreciate simplicity in songwriting," says the 45-year-old frontman of indie pioneers The Oddfellows.

He even wrote a song called Home that was directly influenced by The Velvet Underground's Sunday Morning through its lyrics and minimal yet effective song arrangement. The tune, written in the late 1990s, is unreleased but can be found on The Oddfellow's MySpace page.

Singer, songwriter and indie music veteran Joe Ng praises Reed for his "daring and invention" through the years.

"It's his wonderful melodies, his poetry and dissonance. There's a kind of laid-back blase in him, plus his killer wit with words," says Ng, who is in his 40s.

Freelance writer Ivan Thomasz, 45, says Reed changed the way that he looked at the world.

Referring to the song Walk On The Wild Side, which talks about male prostitutes, transsexuals and drugs, he adds: "It blew my mind, especially the line about Holly 'who hitchhiked her way across the USA, plucked her eyebrows on the way, shaved her legs and then he was a she'. I said to myself, 'Wow, this is some very daring stuff for someone to be singing about.'

"You could say that by listening to his songs, I became a bit more worldly wise and it helped ease me into my adulthood.

"I saw that the world wasn't always so bright and beautiful, and that some people live some very dark and desperate lives, and some get to transcend the darkness but some don't, for some reason or other."

dinohadi@sph.com.sg


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