How can I write about anything this TunesDay but Lou Reed? He passed away the other day from liver disease and it’s a huge loss to any fan of rock music. Lou was a founding member of The Velvet Underground, a band most of you have neither heard nor heard of. As with several other members of the Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame (they’ve been in since 1996), their influence goes way beyond their commercial success, and Lou’s went even beyond that. He also points out a few things that are relevant to business too.
First, a little Lou to get us energized:
Lou’s efforts with The Velvet Underground were a bomb. Not the bomb – a bomb, as in commercial failure. While the world is littered with businesses (and don’t kid yourself – no matter how artistic the band, it’s a business too) that fail, we sometimes don’t recognize that contained within that failure is a ton of success. Obviously, since they’re a Hall Of Fame act, the artistic side of the venture was working.
This isn’t an unusual phenomenon, by the way. Two examples that pop into my head are Galileo and Thoreau. Galileo, the father of science, was locked up as a heretic and looked upon as a failure in his time. Thoreau’s works were mostly ignored for 100 years and his influence on many folks in the latter part of the last century is undeniable (check out Civil Disobedience and Walden if you don’t believe that). Smart businesspeople look in the ashes of “failures” for embers of success.
Back to Lou. I chose the song Rock And Roll because it too makes a business point. First, the music. It’s a very familiar chord sequence. Slow it down and you have Sweet Home Alabama. Add a droning lead guitar and you have Sweet Child Of Mine. We don’t always need new, innovative or unusual chord sequences to make magic either in music or in business. Second, the lyrics:
Then one fine morning, she turns on a New York station
she doesn’t believe what she hears at all
Ooohhh, she started dancin’ to that fine fine music
you know her life was saved by rock ‘n’ roll
yeah, rock ‘n’ roll
Anyone who has had that experience – feeling as if they had their life saved by music – knows how powerful an emotion Lou is tapping here. That’s a business point as well. Lou describes a typical young adult who can’t relate to her parents or situation in life and yet finds hope and salvation in music. Using subjects to which the target audience can relate and expressing yourself in honest, simple language are good thoughts to keep in mind as well.
Finally, Lou didn’t have classic rock looks nor a great voice yet he was able to succeed. Many of us tend to dwell on the obvious shortcomings our businesses may have instead of focusing on how to use the assets we do have to grow. In Lou’s case, those assets were a fantastic vision, fearlessness, and his intellect. While we’re all a little worse off for his departure, we have his music and the things he showed us through it. For that, I’m appreciative and glad. You?