Lou Reed

New York Calling: Lou Reed’s thoughts on The Strokes

It’s no secret that New York heroes The Strokes owe a lot to Lou Reed. Be it in The Velvet Underground or afterwards, Reed’s extensive career influenced The Strokes in more ways than one.

Thematically, musically and even aesthetically (in the early days), The Strokes took the baton from Reed and created music that was the spiritual successor to Reed’s most important output in the 1960s and ’70s.

Often dealing with sinister and taboo themes, Reed‘s lyrical style has been imitated so many times over the years, to varying degrees of success. Strokes frontman, Julian Casablancas is one of the only self-confessed Lou Reed disciples that’s managed to take his formula and augment it rather than simply ripping him off.

Possessing a certain degree of self-awareness, Casablancas has openly discussed the influence of Reed at different points over the years. In a Rolling Stone interview, Casablancas said: “The way Lou Reed wrote and sang about drugs and sex, about the people around him — it was so matter-of-fact”.

He explained: “Reed could be romantic in the way he portrayed these crazy situations, but he was also intensely real. It was poetry and journalism.” Casablancas’ take on Reed’s style is brilliant. He almost makes him out to be some sort of Gonzo journalist stuck right in the mire of New York’s artistic side, which in many ways he was. One only has to note the ‘Candy’ segment of ‘Walk on the Wild Side’ to heed the truth of this.

In 2004, Lou Reed and The Strokes came into direct contact. We don’t know how many times they met over the years, but the conversation they had for FILTER Magazine was a pretty big deal for the New York quintet. The Strokes had finally met their idol, and as Casablancas kept saying when Reed arrived, “Man, this is so fuckin’ surreal”.

Julian Casablancas playing T5 in NYC (and covered SNL holiday song),  Strokes playing Isle of Wight (and top NME albums of the decade list)

Luckily for The Strokes, their idol was in a good mood. The notoriously difficult Lou Reed wasn’t only in a good mood, but he was more than happy to answer a wide array of questions from the giddy band about everything from recording techniques to Andy Warhol. Even more significantly though, Reed broke from the norm and paid the band some huge compliments. He said: “I heard your album Is This It? We were listening to it in the studio. It was great. All those great guitar parts. You know, it’s very difficult to play like that. It sounds simple, but it’s not easy to do. I thought it was great that bands are making music like that again.”

Understandably, The Strokes were ecstatic. Casablancas responded by saying: “None of it would have happened without you. We wouldn’t be here without you.” To which, the typically stoic Reed replied: “Thank you. That’s nice to hear”.

A life-affirming event, there’s no surprise that The Strokes had the confidence to carry on their world-beating run after the Reed seal of approval.

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