RIP Lou Reed, You Were Part Of My Childhood And You Make Me A Better Parent

shutterstock_107523542It may sound bizarre, but Lou Reed was one of my first childhood heroes, along with Debbie Harry, Patti Smith and David Bowie. Yesterday, his passing reminded me that the exposure I got as a young child to adult themes only made me more open-minded and aware.  A child’s life doesn’t have to just revolve around Sesame Street.

To say that Lou Reed’s songs contained adult content is like saying the most obvious thing ever. You can barely utter a line without reference to drug use, sex in many forms, and words that would have never gone over on the playground at my Catholic school in the late ’80s.

Holly came from Miami, F.L.A.
Hitch-hiked her way across the U.S.A.
Plucked her eyebrows on the way
Shaved her legs and then he was a she
She says, “Hey babe, take a walk on the wild side”

With lyrics like that let’s just say I understood transgender struggles a decade or two before my first episode of “Orange Is The New Black.”

Yet my parents didn’t worry about me repeating vulgar words or being exposed to concepts (like giving head or creaming her pants) that I wouldn’t understand for another decade or more. They knew I would be drawn to what they loved. His deep meaningful voice, the jazzy saxophone in “Walk On The Wild Side” or the string melodies of “Street Hassle.”  Decades later, “Perfect Day” would play at my wedding. Instead of focusing on his words I was forever marked by his jaded but vulnerable spirit, speaking for all the lost souls of NYC.

His songs also bridged the gap between my father’s talent as a musician and mine as a writer. Lou Reed told amazing and raw stories, the kind my father wrote about in his own songs, the kind I am still drawn to this day. The pictures Lou Reed painted in my childhood and adolescence are the essence of what occupies my fictional story worlds to this day. His music was my first exploration into ideas of what it meant to live and be alive (not always the same thing), all without ever having done heroin for myself. And thankfully, it never once occurred to me to repeat the lyrics to any of the nuns.

For these reasons, my kids both went to nursery school never having heard “The Wheels On The Bus” once in their lives, yet they could sing every lyric to Pink’s “Raise Your Glass.”  We love to watch the Vh1 Top 20 Countdown every Sunday morning where they are exposed to the varied sounds of Tegan and Sara to Avicii to Lorde.  One of my proudest moments as a parent was when my two-year-old requested these three songs at bedtime: “I Love Rock n’ Roll” (Joan Jett), “You Are My Sunshine” and Om Gate Gate (a Buddhist mantra).  If that doesn’t reflect the all-ideas-are-welcome-here household they are being raised in, I don’t know what does.

It’s true they have seen Miley Cyrus’s “Wrecky Ball” (as my two-year-old pronounces it) more times than any episode of “Ni Hao Kailan.”  And I think they will be better people for it.

(photo: Michal Durinik /

Be Sociable, Share!
You can reach this post's author, Carinn Jade, on twitter.
Be Sociable, Share!
  • Eve Vawter

    I love this carinn. I will be SO SAD when Bowie dies :(

  • Rachel Sea

    This is lovely. Not everything has to be child-centric to be good for the whole family.

    • Carinn Jade

      Exactly. Thank you!

  • ShellyG

    I, too, grew up with Lou Reed. David Bowie, Iggy Pop. Queen, Pink Floyd. Bob Dylan. The Rolling Stones. Music is great because it’s everything – lyrics, guitar, drums, cello, piano… you don’t have to get one portion of it to love the whole. My kid loves what I grew up with, plus new additions like Pendulum and Lady Gaga… anything with a beat that she can dance to. The lyrical meaning will come later.

    • Carinn Jade

      I love all of those! And yes, the dance factor is important.

  • Simone

    Street Hassle, Transformer, Songs for Drella, Perfect Day. I cried when I heard he was gone. All we have left now is Bowie, the eternal and unchanging. If the gods are good, they will still somehow find a way to mix the genes of Bowie and Annie Lennox to create our new Overlord and usher in the New Age of Thin Elegant Omnisexual Talented Strangeness.

  • AE Vorro

    *High five*

  • Pingback: Literary Classics Arrive As Board Books But Parents Say They're A Bust()

  • allisonjayne

    Tegan and Sara are my 2 year old’s favourite. She insisted we put photos of them up on her walls.

    When she was a baby, Sleigh Bells were her favourite band…I was really sad when she went through a ‘only kid songs’ phase at around 18 months. Now she’s got a good balance I think…lots of kid songs but also stuff that doesn’t completely suck. It’s interesting figuring out what stuff she will and won’t like.