How Lou Reed Inspired Anti-Communist Revolutionaries and the Rest of Us

Matt Welch
Reason Magazine
10/27/2013

Since Lou Reed’s influence was exponentially bigger, and his personality occasionally much smaller than, his music, it’s worth remembering why the late Velvet Underground singer/songwriter was deservedly famous in the first place. Jesse Walker posts some of the evidence below, to which I would add that the span of decades has dulled us to how shocking and boundary-pushing much of his earliest and greatest work was in the context of his times…

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…The Lou Reed connection to anti-communism is one of the world’s greatest examples of art taking on an unexpected and liberating life of its own…

…Rock bands in Czechoslovakia required a license from the government, and in those days of communist “normalization,” the Plastic People’s was soon revoked. The band continued to play, but only at weddings (one of the few activities beyond the government’s control) and at secret, one-time shows advertised through paranoid word of mouth. The Plastics acquired a Warholesque “artistic director,” the crazed alcoholic imp Ivan Martin Jirous, and eventually replaced its English-language repertoire with a bunch of Czech originals derived from the poetry of various banned authors. The songs weren’t political in any conventional sense, but when the state dictates culture, all unapproved acts become political, like it or not. […]…

…In April 1975, Havel sat down and, knowing that he’d likely be imprisoned for his efforts, wrote an open letter to his dictator, Gustáv Husák, explaining in fearless and painstaking detail just why and how totalitarianism was ruining Czechoslovakia. “So far,” Havel scolded Husák, “you and your government have chosen the easy way out for yourselves, and the most dangerous road for society: the path of inner decay for the sake of outward appearances; of deadening life for the sake of increasing uniformity; of deepening the spiritual and moral crisis of our society, and ceaselessly degrading human dignity, for the puny sake of protecting your own power.” It was the big bang that set off the dissident movement in Central Europe…

…”What Havel realized was that this represented something very dangerous,” said Czech-born British playwright Tom Stoppard, whose award-winning 2006 play Rock ‘n’ Roll centered on a Plastic People fan becoming radicalized in communist Prague, in 2009. “Now the state could put you into jail simply for being the wrong sort of bloke.”…

 

The complete article, with video, is at Reason.com

 

 

Related: The True Story Of How Lou Reed Helped Overthrow Communism In Eastern Europe

 How influential was Lou Reed?

Former Czech president and one-time dissident playwright Vaclav Havel was once said to have asked him, “Did you know I am president because of you?”…

 

Also at the site:

Legendary Rock Pioneer Lou Reed Is Dead At 71
 
 
Here’s Velvet Underground Co-Founder John Cale’s Reaction To Lou Reed’s Passing

 

 

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