The departed: Seamus Heaney and Lou Reed, the cultural heroes I lost in 2013

The death of the Velvet Underground leader stole a musical icon, but that of the poet felt like a more personal loss

Two of my real, heart-held culture heroes died in 2013. Lou Reed was the soundtrack of my adolescence and I still listen to his music. He's the reason I find meaning in the art of Andy Warhol, who discovered the Velvet Underground and was admired by its leaders, Reed and John Cale.

When I was 16, I literally thought I was the only Velvet Underground fan in the world. It was an obscurantist obsession, at a time when I should have been listening to Joy Division like every other miserable teenager in the northwest. I did listen to them, but I could hear in Reed's voice that he had a mainline into a place of sin and mystery and fearful magic.

Now it turns out there were loads of other fans of Lou Reed and the Velvet Underground all along, and I was not alone.

Yet oddly enough, when the news of Reed's death broke, I felt nothing like the shock or sense of loss I might have expected to be torn by. I don't think I would have been especially upset if he died back in 1982, even, when I was listening to him all the time.

The fact is that mourning Reed seems a bit besides the point. In his best songs he presents himself as dead already. Heroin and I'm Waiting for the Man are letters from the end of the world. By rights, to judge from their lyrics, he ought to have passed away years ago. The extremism of his vision is not really captured by bland praise of Perfect Day. Reed's is a majestic voice but somehow not one that changes how you live, unless it inspires you to put a spike into your vein.

No – the death that saddened me most is Seamus Heaney's, for it is the silencing of a voice that could heal and resurrect and move mountains. I discovered this poet a bit later than I listened to Reed – and in the classroom. Then at university I went to a reading by him that I can still feel the soft power of.

Heaney's poetic voice is unpretentious, and yet tremendously knowledgable and sophisticated. He introduced me to Dante with his luminous translation of the story of Ugolino.

I have this deep feeling that Heaney is one of the greatest poets in the English language. His words go down like honey, like the conversation of the gods. Easy and profound.

It is Heaney's voice that is the deepest loss. A warmth was in it and I'm feeling the chill now.


Jonathan Jones

The GuardianTramp

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