In Memoriam: 5 Things that Filmmakers can Learn from Lou Reed - Raindance

loureedIt is not the right occasion to write this article. One of the most extraordinary songwriters and the lead singer of the Velvet Underground – Lou Reed – has passed away at the age of 71.

Not many of you may know, but Mr. Reed was also a juror at the 14th Raindance Film Festival in 2006.

In memory of this talented and truly influential person, here are five invaluable things that filmmakers could learn from Lou Reed:

1. Original Content

In an interview for the Rolling Stone magazine in 1987, Reed mentioned that his writing goal was “to bring the sensitivities of the novel to rock music”. He was inspired by one of his mentors – poet Delmore Schwartz. Throughout his career, Lou Reed managed to fuse honest poetry-like lyrics with revolutionary sounds of rock guitar.

Furthermore, many musicians in the 1960s tried to bridge the gap between the immensely popular rock and roll and the avant garde. Lou Reed did not seem to have much problem with it. In a time when music was getting more and more pretentious, Reed manifested simplicity both in his lyrics and chords.

Similar situation is apparent in the film industry nowadays. Market is saturated with “tentpole” blockbusters, studios try to produce indie-like flicks and even simplicity can’t promise salvation. However, there is no need to invent the wheel here. Just express yourself and show it to the people. Like Lou Reed did.

2. Career Management

It seems that Reed could not sit still. From playing in various bands in high school to forming the Velvet Underground, collaboration with Andy Warhol and a winding solo career that even got him to perform before Pope John Paul II. Most of his commercial or critical nods would be followed by a flop, though. Like “Metal Machine Music” that followed “Transformer” according to Rolling Stone magazine. Despite that, Lou Reed has been nominated for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as a solo artist twice and, although he was not inducted, the Velvet Underground was – in 1996.

So, the lesson to be learnt here is that as long as you know what you want to do in your life, it doesn‘t really matter how or when you‘re going to achieve it – there are no standard rules or guidelines for an artist‘s career. Have an aim, follow your heart and trust yourself every step of the way.

3. Versatility

Lou Reed is the best example of uniqueness in contradiction. One of his most distinctive features was the experimentation. Pop, Jazz, Rock, Punk – not shying away from all-noise experiments or banter-heavy music. Try to compare “Berlin” and “Sally Can’t Dance”.

Many filmmakers are wary of substantial changes in the way they create and what gets created. I suppose you could blame that on the fear of losing integrity. However, Lou Reed shows that as long as you stay true to yourself instead of blindly seeking acceptance, you can try new things without betraying your principles. Besides, it’s always good to stay fresh.

4. Influence

Elvis or Beatles fans may argue, but there is no doubt that Lou Reed can be considered as one of the most influential songwriters of his generation. He provided a legacy for New York’s bohemian scene of the 1970s, a musical illustration to Andy Warhol’s Factory setting and overall social disruptions of that time stretching beyond the shores of America.

The Velvet Underground developed a strong cult following even years after it disintegrated. The Rolling Stone magazine listed their album “The Velvet Underground & Nico” as the 13th most influential album of all time. Brian Eno, an electronic musician and producer, even stated that “everyone who bought one of the 30,000 copies of the album started a band”.

How can you learn to influence people? You probably can‘t. On the other hand, if you believe in what you do and stand by it against all odds, it will reflect. Besides, just as a personal observation: depicting the world around you in the most genuine way, usually has a certain amount of influence. If not on the current generation, than the ones after – most likely. Just a thought.

5. Persistence

Lou Reed has been shaping the music industry for over fifty years. As for many artists, those were years of countless ups and downs. The Velvet Underground was not a commercially successful band and both of its founding members – Lou Reed and John Cale – parted to pursue solo careers. Reed had very diverse feedback from the critics and audiences alike. He had a radio hit “Walk on the Wild Side” and “Metal Machine Music” – reportedly returned to stores few weeks after by those who had bought it. His reckless lifestyle and subsequent health issues made it increasingly difficult to fulfil the creative capacity. Nonetheless, Lou Reed never gave up. He continued writing songs and performing until the very last days of his life.

Filmmakers or musicians – artists of any kind – if creativity is what makes your blood flow, equip yourself with patience and sheer stubbornness to keep going even if everything seems to be falling apart.