Lou Reed, lead singer for the ’60’s rock group, The Velvet Underground, died Oct. 27, 2013 at the age of 71. He had underwent a liver transplant in May 2013. He was a New York city rocker, and his song I remember most was ‘Walk On the Wild Side.’ There were other groups at that time that I followed, but years later I learned that he had quite an impact on young people living behind the Iron Curtain.
From this Business Insider article
Former Czech president and one-time dissident playwright Vaclav Havel was once said to have asked him, “Did you know I am president because of you?”
Sometime between 1967 and 1968, Havel visited the U.S., and scored a copy of a record by the Velvet Underground. Havel took it home, along with Frank Zappa’s debut, and managed to smuggle it through Customs. Soon it was being copied and passed around the Prague underground, influencing the avant-garde set to play secretive gigs around the capital…”
One of the people who picked up the album was Milan “Mejla” Hlavsa, who played in a band called The Plastic People of the Universe. In August 1968, the Soviet Union invaded Prague, and the repression that followed prevented the PPU from playing in public. Eventually, they were formally banned.
But they continued to play on underground circuits.
Finally, in 1976, its leaders were arrested, their music deemed anti-social. Lots of other artists were rounded up too, and their trial ended up giving birth on Jan. 1, 1977 to Charter 77, a dissident movement formed to protect human rights. Havel was the leader.
It took another 12 years, but eventually the Charter 77 movement brought about the fall of the Czech Communist regime.
The lyrics to the music of Lou Reed was not political, but the guitar riffs was the sound of freedom to the young people behind the Iron Curtain. The war protests songs by Crosby, Stills & Nash like ‘Four Dead in Ohio’ had no special meaning to people behind the Iron Curtain who knew of several more dead than four. Some might say the songs about sex and drugs are a ‘if it feels good do it’ kind of freedom, but keep in mind how much more repression they endured then behind the Iron Curtain.
Here is an excerpt of a Prague TV article about a meeting between Lou Reed and Vaclav in January 2005.
Havel and Reed talk about early influences and, with some embarrassment, their early work. Havel says he is “ashamed” when he reads his early poems, while Reed dismisses his first efforts at songwriting as “standard rock ‘n’ roll love songs – I love you, you love me, no you don’t love me anymore.”
Unsurprisingly, Reed is most comfortable talking about music.
“I still like things I liked when I was 14, and anything that sounds like it,” he admits. “The right song strikes me emotionally, and it surprises me.”
Recent examples include the Ray Charles songs What’d I Say and (Night Time Is) The Right Time, and, less expectedly, music by Mary Chapin Carpenter and The Cranberries.
“I gave up trying to figure it out,” he adds. “There’s just this thing in rock music that does that to me.”
In memory of Lou Reed is a video of one of my favorite songs, ‘I Found a Reason.’ It seems fitting for the occasion.