And the following was in today's Wall Street Journal:
The United States of Lou ReedThe United States of Lou Reed
Sometimes rock 'n' roll can accomplish more to promote freedom than translating the Federalist
By David Feith, And Bari Weiss
It is somehow fitting that rock star Lou Reed died Sunday, in this season of American national angst
over government shutdowns, mounting debt and declining influence abroad. That's because the Velvet
Underground frontman not only motivated Václav Havel and the Czechoslovak dissidents who challenged
their Communist rulers and helped bring down the Soviet Union. He also demonstrated why, for all we
hear about Washington's sclerosis, it is still smart to bet on America in this century as in the
Not that Reed himself would have put it this way. Starting in the mid-1960s, his lyrics about urban
life, drugs and sexuality made him one of rock's leading transgressives. Later he lambasted the
concept of the American dream ("Give me your hungry, your tired, your poor I'll piss on 'em/That's
what the Statue of Bigotry says") and railed against New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani and the religious
right. In recent years, he supported Occupy Wall Street and performed in Israel, even as some of his
left-wing contemporaries boycotted the Jewish state.
But whatever his personal politics, Reed's music took on a life of its own behind the Iron Curtain.
In the 1970s Czechoslovakia's anti-Communist movement coalesced around a Velvet Underground-inspired
rock group called the Plastic People of the Universe. The Communist government branded the rockers
enemies of the state for their long hair, crazy outfits, secret concerts and anti-authority lyrics.
Playwright Václav Havel documented their trial and imprisonment in 1976, then published the "Charter
77" human-rights manifesto and eventually led the Velvet Revolution against Communism in 1989. The
name derived partly from Reed's band, Havel later said. And when the two men met in 1990, Havel told
him, "Do you know I am president because of you?"
As far as we know, Lou Reed didn't get up in the morning thinking about how he could overthrow the
Soviet Union. But his story reminds us that rock 'n' roll can sometimes inadvertently accomplish
more to promote freedom than translating the Federalist Papers. In unfree societies, free
expression-whether from Lou Reed or Lady Gaga-is subversive in itself.
Consider apartheid South Africa and the unlikely story of Rodriguez, an early-1970s folk singer in
Detroit who achieved no fame in the U.S. but immense popularity among white, anti-apartheid
activists thousands of miles away. His blunt lyrics about sex won him young South African listeners,
as did his claim that "This system's gonna fall soon, to an angry young tune/And that's a concrete
cold fact." The system that fell was South Africa's, where the government tried to keep Rodriguez's
music off the radio and out of stores, with official censors sometimes scratching his LPs by hand.
The music of Reed and Rodriguez reinforced an appreciation for the critical divide between closed
and open societies. Free societies like the United States-where one can write songs such as "The
Establishment Blues" or even "F*** tha Police" without fear of hearing a knock on the door in the
dead of night-create an endless stream of material that can wield outsize power in rigid, unfree
When the Soviets sent tanks to crush the "Prague Spring" in August 1968, they couldn't have imagined
that the crackdown would spur the formation of an absurdist rock band capable of stoking two decades
of popular political protest. But Communist leaders knew that their hold on power was always
tenuous. Otherwise they wouldn't have built a police state to monitor and restrain their people.
So it is today, as regimes try to tamp down the contemporary analogues to the Plastic People of the
Universe. In Vladimir Putin's Russia, two members of the punk-rock collective Pussy Riot now sit in
prison, guilty of "hooliganism." In Turkmenistan, the popular singer Maksat Kakabaev, known as Maro,
served in a penal colony for two years. In Belarus, Europe's last dictatorship, the rocker Miron was
accused of creating political unrest and forced into military service. And in Iran, "Samira," a
female rapper, sings: "Captive and prisoners behind the dark walls/ We know our destiny to freedom."
In July, Iranian Navy Commander Rear Admiral Habibollah Sayyari pointed to the Internet, movies and
satellite TV as "tools" of the West's "soft war" against the Islamic Republic. Last month, the
Revolutionary Guard took his cue, rounding up hundreds of satellite dishes in the city of Shiraz and
crushing them with a tank. On some, the regime had written "satellite dishes are treason."
No matter how many satellite dishes the ayatollahs confiscate, or how many Internet connections they
jam, as Lou Reed put it in a 1987 song, just two years before the Velvet Revolution: "I hear the
voices of freedom from the left/ I hear the voices of freedom from the right/I hear the voices of
freedom, babe, from all over this world."
----- Original Message -----
From: "Justin Lemons" <[log in to unmask]>
To: <[log in to unmask]>
Sent: Wednesday, October 30, 2013 2:43 PM
Subject: Re: [ARSCLIST] Excellent Lou Reed rememberance
> This is without a doubt the best obituary I have read for him so far.
> Thank you.
> On Wed, Oct 30, 2013 at 1:07 PM, Aaron L. Rosenblum <[log in to unmask]>wrote:
>> A quick addendum (sorry to clog your inboxes) - the previously linked post
>> about Lou Reed has been picked up by Huffington Post, if you prefer to read
>> it in the "legit" (?!?) media.
>> Okay, done talking about Lou...for now!
>> On Wed, Oct 30, 2013 at 1:25 PM, Aaron L. Rosenblum <[log in to unmask]
>> > Another terrific remembrance from music writer and Lou fanatic Matt
>> > Krefting. Okay, he's also a lifelong friend and bandmate of mine, but I
>> > stand by his piece quite apart from any of that:
>> > Aaron
>> > Aaron L. Rosenblum
>> > Assistant Curator of Special Collections
>> > The *Filson* Historical Society
>> > 1310 South Third Street
>> > Louisville, KY 40208
>> > 502.635.5083 x 269 (phone)
>> > 502.635.5086 (fax)
>> > [log in to unmask]
>> > www.filsonhistorical.org