For as long as I can remember, I have known that Holly came from Miami, FLA and hitch-hiked her way across the USA; that little Joe never gave it away; and, that Jackie thought she was James Dean for a day. As young as I was when I first heard Lou Reed’s “Walk on the Wild Side,” I cannot possibly have known what the hustle here and the hustle there was all about. Had I known, I probably wouldn’t have been singing it within earshot of my parents – after all, this was the early 1970s in provincial Northern Ireland.
Remembering Lou Reed reminds me of a story Neil Gaiman tells about how he braced himself for almost twenty years for the inevitable conversation with his daughter about the story behind her name. Holly. When the day arrived, here’s how it went:
You named me from this song, didn’t you?” said Holly as the first bass notes sang. “Yup,” I said. Reed started singing. Holly listened to the first verse, and for the first time, actually heard the words. “Shaved her legs and then he was a she …? He?
That’s right,” I said, and bit the bullet. We were having The Conversation.”You were named after a drag queen in a Lou Reed song.” She grinned like a light going on. “Oh dad. I do love you,” she said. Then she picked up an envelope and wrote what I’d just said down on the back, in case she forgot it.
I’m not sure that I’d ever expected The Conversation to go quite like that.
If I’m honest, I have always been a tiny bit afraid of whatever truths awaited me on the wild side with Lou Reed, but I always took that walk with him anyway. And, I have never regretted it, because there was always a book of magic in the garbage can to take me away. And then came the loss . . . just to even things out.
Two years on, it feels odd to say out loud that Lou Reed is dead, that there have been no more new tales from the dirty boulevard. I remember Ken wouldn’t say it out loud either, and I sometimes wonder if it is because he had an inkling that just 18 days later, he would fly away too.
Lou Reed was right about lots of things. He was right about the magic and the loss. I understand that now, and I’m the better for it. So thank you Lou Reed. For all of it. For being combative and contrary and infinitely cool. For my black leather jacket. For my rock and roll heart. For the bit of magic.