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This is a tricky one, no question.

24 hours later, I’m still processing that Lou Reed died Sunday morning. He was 71 years old and 30 years clean. He was recovering from a liver transplant. He was doing tai chi.

It’s an interesting exercise to make a list of songs by Lou Reed for kids because so many of them, the Velvet Underground songs in particular, are instantly compelling to children. Catchy songs with darkness just underneath. Album covers with peel-off banana stickers. And yeah, lyrics about drugs and sex work and suicide that are wholly inappropriate (also compelling to children). Sweet songs run through with silliness and sadness: the twinkling ‘Stephanie Says’ and the driving punch of  ‘Waiting For The Man’ (Daddy, why is he waiting for that man? Why can’t Sally get up off the floor?) Melodious and simple pop songs. Ditties.

The first song I knew to be Lou Reed song was a ditty: a scrap of a song 1:37 minutes in length called ‘New York Conversation’. A high school friend had it on a mix tape from an older brother. I heard ‘Walk on the Wild Side’ during its brief and glorious tenure on FM radio, but I didn’t know who sang it; already obsessed with New York City through the adventures of Harriet M. Welsch and Claudia Kincaid, ‘New York Conversation’ sealed the deal.

It took some doing to find Lou Reed stuff you can casually play for your children — but it sure was fun. Here’s a mostly clean playlist so your kids can get to know Lou. And when they get super-duper into it and go deeper into the catalogue well, you’ll have something interesting to talk about.

1. I’m Sticking With You

The most obviously kid-friendly song, it was recorded with the Velvets in 1969 but didn’t appear until an outtakes compilation in the mid-80s. Lou shares vocal duties here with drummer Moe Tucker but I bet your kid would love to sing it with you.

2. Who Loves The Sun?

If your kids have ever heard a Beatles song, they will instantly adore this. It’s a song about not everyone loving the sun, and they will dig the melancholy. Also that totally crazy thing that happens right in the middle of the song (press play). Your kids will go apeshit for that part.

3. Perfect Day

Except for drinking sangria in the park (but you’ve been to Trinity-Bellwoods right?) this pretty much describes any city kid’s ideal Saturday — and the quiet joy parents feel when the perfect day they hoped for actually happens. If it warms up one more time this fall, go do all the things he suggests.

4. New York Telephone Conversation

There is so much to recommend this song. The protagonist still naps. The sound through headphones of the whispery “yatata-ta-ta-ta” of the “gossip all of the time.” The percussion. And Lou’s grasp of grammar, which was not praised enough during his lifetime: “Did you hear who did what to whom.” Plus, the protagonist naps.

5.  Rock and Roll

With any luck, you’ve got radio on the dial that you love as much as Jenny loves that New York station. Also, your kid will love the freaky way Lou sings “Fine! Fine!” music.

6. Satellite of Love

Another mystery song from Lou — what is happening? did he go up to space with Bowie? — that sucks you inside it from the first note. It’s probably a song that makes far more sense to children than their grown-ups. Perhaps they can tell us what it’s about.

Fun fact: In the first go-round, the lyrics for the bridge were: “I’ve been told that you’ve been bold/With Wynken, Blynken and Nod” (!!)

7. Sunday Morning

There’s not a more perfect way to go out than Sunday morning doing tai chi.


Satellite’s gone, up to the sky. Bye-Bye, Lou.



Lou Reed for kids. It can be done


Lou Reed for kids: you'd be surprised how perfect some VU songs are for children

recommended obits: Rolling Stone, Guardian, Slate, Haaretz, New Yorker and NY Mag

Helen Spitzer loves her kids and the rock & roll.

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