I remember the first time I saw that banana. It was on a t-shirt, Rory’s t-shirt. Just a big freaking banana on a white t-shirt, underneath a pilled cardigan and a birds nest of black hair and wiry glasses.
It only spoke to me, as a 15 year old high school sophomore, because I was in the wild throes of a developing affair with pop art. I prayed to the altars of Andy Warhol, Edie Sedgwick and Campbell’s Soup cans. The unnaturally bright fruit drew me in for the artist whose name was so blatantly associated with it, but it wasn’t long after that I realized what that banana really stood for.
Soon I discovered Lou Reed, his Velvet Underground and the Amazonian beauty (and surprisingly audio dissonant singer) Nico. That banana came back to me in full force when it became one of the final physical CDs I ever purchased before succumbing to the ease and seemingly inconsequential nature of MediaFire and .zip files.
This was around the same time that I miraculously passed the New Jersey state driving test and could take the two-door red Tiburon out through the wide streets of Absecon Island unaccompanied. Then and now, I would find much more freedom in driving alone, without friends or potential love interests. I think the only reason I ever enjoyed driving was from the thrill of pulling out of my parents’ driveway, turning the corner down Atlantic Avenue and hearing Sunday Morning’s angelic intro — the sounds of peace and hipness and solace. I loved navigating the endless curves and no-entrance roads in Margate to get to Emma’s house back by the bay. It meant more time spent alone, with Venus in Furs and Heroin and All Tomorrow’s Parties. And that one summer, before leaving for college, when I would sneak off under the cover of a movie at Emma’s house, it meant driving down Pacific Avenue at 11:30 pm, on my way home from a night spent high on the thrill of almost-having sex with an older guy friend and actual pot smoking, hearing There She Goes Again and feeling like I would never be as cool as I was at that very moment. Looking back at all the inner dialogues I’ve ever had with myself (and please believe that, as a self-diagnosed neurotic, there have been plenty) this was one of the few that turned out to be 100% true.
Finding Lou was the start of a pretty critical transition in my life, musically and socially. During that limbo of high school’s end and college’s beginning, I think every 17 and 18 year old puts themselves through endless exercises in figuring out who he or she is, and whether or not that person is one they want to take into the next four years of their life. Musically, high school for me was about (publicly) weening myself off of the pop-punk delightfulness that shaped the junior high years and filtering in things from decades before my time. Starting with the obvious – The Beatles, the Stones, Cream, and moving on to more dedicated pursuits, pursuits of Dylan and The Guess Who, a newfound appreciation for Motown. I was all too young (but seemingly authoritative enough, as a budding college radio station DJ) to make declarations at the age of 18 or 19 that I’d be perfectly happy to subsist off of old music for the rest of time, ignorant to the increasingly fractured world of pop-punk I used to love, blissfully blind to this thing called dubstep that was starting to creep across the Atlantic, and OK with leaving behind the endless exasperation of keeping up with the latest soft-sung balladeer and his acoustic guitar.
Out of college and a few musical decisions later, I still (sort of) believe that I could live the rest of my life on a consistent diet of Martha and the Vandellas and The Velvet Underground and anything that happened in the 90s and feel well-nourished. And yes, a part of me does recognize, though, that without guys like Lou Reed, there wouldn’t be some of these nutty genres to juggle or to watch split into sub-genres or to fall in love with. But the beauty, for me, is always found in things so steeped in history and originality that they become immune to the skewing effects of all modern day influences. These are the songs that — unsusceptible to external forces —only have the power to change the listeners. I guess it’s one of the few and only situations, for me, where it feels ok to not be in control.
I’m going to miss Lou Reed for his music, but fortunately he’s left us with plenty to playback. But it’s because at 17, despite still not having sex or that much to drink or many regrettable but thrilling stories to tell in the cafeteria, Lou was able to make me feel and more importantly, believe, that my cool and credibility were beyond that of my sex-having, solo-cup slinging, curfew-breaking classmates — that’s why I’ll miss him most of all.