The Power of The Heart -A Celebration of Lou Reed
LOU REED-WALK ON THE WILD SIDE
Words for Lou The Apollo December 16, 2013
Welcome dear friends. We’re meeting here this evening because it’s a very special day it’s the fiftieth day after Lou’s death.
Lou and I were meditators. We were students of Buddhism and also artists so we had lots of reasons to try to understand how life and death can illuminate each other.
I was with Lou the morning he died and he knew exactly what was happening. He had described this feeling the week before of slipping down through the body through the inside and out. And that Sunday morning he said its happening again now. And then he had an expression on his face that I had only seen once before when my mother died and it looked like this.
That’s what it looked like. Inexpressible wonder and incredible joy.
We had been up the whole night before talking and we had actually gotten the chance to practice the things we had talked about, moving the breath up from the stomach through the heart and out the top of the head. He was doing tai chi- the 21 form of flowing water with his spinning hands.
In the morning he demanded to go out on the porch “Take me into the light!” he said. And it was only a few days later that I realized that light was his very last word.
According to the Tibetan Book of the Dead after death all beings spend forty nine days in the bardo. And the bardo is a place or really a process that lasts forty nine days as the mind dissolves and as the Tibetans believe the spirit or, let’s say, the energy prepares to take another life form.
The thing that’s forbidden by the Tibetan Book of the Dead also called the Great Liberation Through Hearing- is crying. Crying is not allowed because it’s supposedly confusing to the dead and you don’t want to summon them back because they actually can’t come back. So no crying.
Lou was a master of friendship and so for the past 49 days we his close friends have been spending every Sunday afternoon getting together at home and talking about Lou and his life and what he did and said and how very deeply he had changed our lives.
During the last 7 weeks I’ve heard literally hundreds of stories mostly about Lou’s kindness and generosity- he put me through college he gave me two cameras he listened to my problems but most of all the stories were: he changed my life by making me do whatever it was better- music, writing, planning,
Each Sunday circled around a different part of his life. One afternoon was about design glasses apps gadgets lenses chefs he was working with on cookbooks …another one photography – collaborators on films and his own photography and films – another one music where many people came and sang and played- his music and their music- another on writing and lyrics and essays and the radio show he did with Hal. Yesterday was the final 49 th day so we spent it in meditation and tai chi.
And I’m thinking about Lou’s beautiful record Transformer which has a new meaning with his transformation from a living person into pure energy
Today is the 50 th day the most significant of all because it represents the end of this process.
One minute after Lou’s heart stopped I called our Rinpoche to set in motion the 49 days of prayers of powa, which are prayers translated as “the practice of conscious dying” or the “transference of consciousness at the time of death”. This is now complete.
So we have asked all of you here today because you were his friends and so that you can join us in this most important moment of all – the liberation into the cosmos and into eternity of his power and his sweetness.
We wanted to be here at the Apollo near Lexington and 125 because that was a place he really loved. Here he comes our sweet sweet Lou.
I want to thank all the friends who are here this evening and have been part of the last 49 days of our celebration and who all have their own stories of Lou and the way their lives intertwined. And thank you to all the people who performed all of you were especially loved by Lou for your friendship and for your beautiful playing. And thanks to all of you who have joined us this evening.
I wasn’t really ready for this. I wasn’t ready for all the crazy things that have happened since Lou died. I’ve learned more in the last 50 days than I have in my whole life things I could never have predicted or imagined things about time and energy and transformation and about love and life and death and compassion.
I began to see things as if for the first time… bound together. It’s as if the world has suddenly opened and everything is illuminated and transparent and utterly fragile.
And I have had the great experience of actually living in the present …a state of the greatest possible happiness that I’m sure will take me the rest of my life to understand and fully realize.
I want to tell you a little more about that but I mostly want to say a few things about my 21 years as Lou’s partner and wife and he my husband and some of the ways we both learned about life.
From the moment we met Lou and I started to talk and we talked non stop about everything conceivable for 21 years.
We talked about love and work and ambition and sorrow.We talked about what we really wanted in life and how to get off the treadmill of doing the same thing over and over and about the tedious ego machine that so much of the art and music world has become.
We talked a lot about how to get rid of the endless chattering that goes on in your mind… the voice that is so constantly critical…the committee that greets you every morning with their gloomy news…of what an idiot you are what a loser
what do you do about that?? we talked about ways to make those voices disappear
we talked about how to find other words for things,
the meaning of tai chi and secrets of the world
We talked about how to make something beautiful, what to do when you fail, about how to make something ugly.
Because we were meditators and also artists we talked a lot about various ways to see the self-
self branding for marketing reason, the difference between the self and the writer about the self.
But then Lou knew how to escape. He had learned how not to be Lou Reed many years ago. He could put Lou Reed on and take him off like one of his jackets. He knew how that worked.
And he also knew how to get inside other people to jump inside them and see the world through their eyes and jump out again and write about it…right through the mirror- I’ll be your mirror was not only a song it was his alchemy, his magic, his compassion for other people which he knew how to feel and how to express.
Lou and I talked about music and song writing and the way Lou wrote was he would wake up in the morning or the middle of the night and just write the song down and it was complete he never changed a word first thought best thought.
For me to me this was infuriating to me who was whittling away at every word and looking at them through magnifying glasses.
Lou did not hide his emotions. Everyone who knew him saw him cry unselfconsciously when he heard something unspeakably beautiful or saw something that became one of his amazing photographs. He lived for beauty in all ways.
People who knew him also sometimes experienced his anger and his fury. But in the last few years each time he was angry it was followed by an apology until the anger and the apology got closer and closer until they were almost on top of each other. Lou knew what he was doing and what he was going for and his incredible complexity and his anger was the one of biggest parts of his beauty.
We also did so many things together we went out almost every night in New York to see playa and music and shows and concerts. We went to Africa, we looked for magic, we went on pilgrimages, went swimming, cared for each other when we were sick, raised our dogs Lolabelle and Will, we invented private worlds with countless crazy characters, built houses, played music together, did tours.
Playing with Lou was such a blast. Everyone who has done that knows he’ll change the tempo and slide into the words in a way you’ve never heard before and you get carried on this huge tide of music so full of freedom and joy-
take a solo! faster! faster ! come one! give it to me
As a partner in both work and love Lou was true and he was completely transparent. I never had a single doubt that we loved each other beyond anything else from the time we first met until the moment he died. Almost every day we said ” and you- you are the love of my life” or some version of that in one of our many private and somewhat bizarre languages. We knew exactly what we had and we were both beyond grateful.
Lou helped me in countless ways as a partner and critic and writer. When I was having trouble finishing a record and was endlessly complaining and worried he said, “I can’t stand hearing about this one more second I’m going to come into the studio and work on this with you and stay there until you’re done”
Now this sounded kind of ominous…kind of a really bad idea. But it was so wonderful – he put so much energy into it – and it was so much fun and so intuitive it was like it was his own work because in many ways it was and the boundaries could often be so fluid.
As a partner Lou was also a witness which seems to me to be one of the greatest things about being a couple- to be able to say to someone Did that just happen? Did you see what I just saw? a familiar trusted voice doing yet another reality check.
No that’s not the way it was at all! Remember when you said that before and you were wrong then and you’re probably wrong now…things like that…
We didn’t have the kind of relationship where the other person has the qualities that you lack and you try to make a complete person by combining the two of you. We didn’t complete each others sentences either. I never really knew where things were going. And even if I was angry and frustrated I was never for one second bored.
Like many people who are couples there is a part of you that becomes joint- the part of you that makes the adjustments you need to make with your own ego and plans …so you can be part of a couple and make it a happy experience.
So when one of the couple dies or leaves what happens to that part of you the part that was the mix?
I was not ready for the shock of that- I had never read or heard anything about that but what has happened is something so amazing
The part that was doing the accommodating – that part has been suddenly filled with the most overwhelming energy and boundless joy and love. This has been so unexpected and weird and surprising that I hardly know what to do with this happiness and it will take me the rest of my life to contain it.
Lou and I talked about instinct…how to trust it-
Anyone who spent time with Lou knows the gesture- he’s holding up his arm to show you look the hairs are standing on end!
And so this is how I accept this wild happiness and vibrating energy.
We never once talked about what would happen when one of us died…what the other would do.
Living in the present I see him and the way his life has turned to energy everywhere I look….I see it in nature and in the things he loved. I see his exuberance and sometimes I hear his over the top insane laugh! I see his gestures his beautiful hands making the shapes of the 21 form.
Just the way music can get inside you and make you dance energy does the same.
I see why tai chi is called a moving meditation and what tai chi might have really meant to Lou as he studied it with his friends and his beloved teacher Master Ren.
I see how people turn into light and into music and eventually into other people. And how fluid the boundaries really are.
Lou and I studied with our teacher Mingyur Rinpoche who taught us many things that we tried to put into practice. One of the hardest things was he said try to practice this :how to feel sad without being sad which is much harder than it seems how to feel sad without being sad. how which we worked on all our lives….
We also worked on what to do with grief. and to follow this teaching whenever you think of that person you’re grieving for instead of giving into grief do something kind or give something away. But you say grief is terrible and it’s constant! I’d be giving things away non stop and he said So?
Mingyur Rinpoche made portraits of Lou and me beautiful large drawings of syllables of our mantra.
The mantra is om ah hung and we spoke it and thought it and tried to actually live it. The om is all of everything and is here in the head the ah of experience is in the throat…the breathless feeling of the moment which was his portrait of me meaning deathless unborn. And Lou’s syllable is centered in the heart and it is the syllable hung which means all of consciousness everything that exists descends down from the head from the mind and is expressed as an explosion in the human heart.
The beautiful song The power of the heart is a love song .
So how should we live? Lou and I tried to come up with a lot of different formulas. Our answer to the absurdity of life was always to make something beautiful. We also had three rules we tried to do. Here they are:
Number one: do not be afraid of anyone. Can you imagine what your life would be like if you weren’t afraid of anyone?
Second have a great bullshit detector and learn how to use it and how to apply it. And third be so tender. Be open to the world and in love with everything and everyone in it.
We meditated together in many different ways…in many different places and different ways we trusted the things the body can do! instinct over reason and tried to live in the present
We did meditations of or own..about sound about light about time…we made them up like look at this crack at the bottom of the swimming pool…look at this speck in my eye for an hour
here’e one. I’ll show you how it works it goes like this:
(2 minutes of silence)
You see how it works humans are so exquisite we already know everything and we have everything we need to live in the present we actually everything we need to live our lives.
We’re almost at the end of this evening and I wanted to say one more thing. That it’s important to remember Lou as a person. Myths happen and get created through repetition and over simplification. We are not meant to idolize each other but to take things from each other and to become the very best parts of each other.
I’m thinking of something Lou said when we were in restaurants or really good pizza places and he’d look at me and say, “Like you always say, ‘You can’t lose money with bread and cheese!’ ”
I don’t remember ever saying that – or actually anything about bread and cheese- but it had become something Lou loved to quote part of the mythology the collective wisdom of downtown Manhattan…Although I’d never said that about bread and cheese I had said a lot of other things that I hoped would be memorable maybe even quotable but it was this one that he seemed to really have by heart- the one going down in his own personal history book.
Lou showed me so many things. And I got to show some things to him too. During the last few months of his life Lou was so dazzled by nature by the beauty of water and trees and he often said, “You always told me the trees were dancing and now I see that they are. They’re dancing.”
And we’d look at the sky for hours.
I want to play a short song I wrote for Lou on his birthday a few years ago. It’s called Flow.
I don’t have any keen insights or vivid recollections, but I will offer a list of song titles:
“White Light/White Heat” (1968)
“Beginning to See the Light” (1969)
“Who Loves the Sun” (1970)
“Ride into the Sun” (1972)
“Fly into the Sun” (1984)
Lou’s last words were “Take me into the light!” I think maybe the guy knew it all along.
Aram Bajakian: Looking at trees with Lou Reed: Reflections on playing guitar with a master
I’ll never forget getting the call at 8 AM to come down to Lou’s to audition for the guitar slot in his band. They wanted me to come in an hour. I was dead tired, my first daughter having been born earlier that week, and I hadn’t expected the call. I also hadn’t worked on the tunes. Nonetheless, I jumped into a cab for his West Village studio, praying that we wouldn’t get stuck in traffic on the Queensborough Bridge. The first thing he said to me when I arrived was, “You’re not going to play any jazz are you? Because this is a rock band.” I found my way into that weird state that exists when you’re exhausted but also know you’ve got the opportunity of a lifetime. I killed the audition—I remember him smiling as we played.
A few weeks later we were listening to trumpeter Don Cherry with an intensity and appreciation that none of my college jazz professors could come close to. Lou picked up on every nuance of every note—and loved it.
When I tell people I played with Lou Reed, the first reaction is often, “I hear he’s difficult.” To which I reply, “Do you really want it to be easy? Do you think any great art comes out of having a nice relaxing time?”
Multi-instrumentalist Doug Weiselman once said to me that while Lou could rip someone to shreds he didn’t get enough credit for how passionate, enthusiastic and supportive he could be when he heard something that was ON. At a rehearsal once with the great saxophonist James Carter, James played these incredibly beautiful low notes—Lou and I just looked at each other. The gig was great too, but there was something about that rehearsal and how James played, the spirit that he invoked—it was so deep, Lou talked about it for weeks.
For Lou playing as if your life depended on it was all that mattered. He instantly knew if it was happening and he lived by that litmus test. When he ripped on people, it was only because he was trying to wake them up, to make their art alive and to make them play with this level of attention.
I once said to him, “Lou, it doesn’t bother me when you rip into me, because I know that you’re trying to teach me something, or that I’m being lazy.” And he said “You’re one of the few who gets it.”
Lou was always in the moment. He often said that if the iconic “Wild Side” solo had been recorded a few hours later it would have been different. On many occasions we would work on something for hours and play it that way the next day only to have Lou say, “No no no, that’s not it.” Inevitably someone would respond with, “Lou that’s what we came up with yesterday.”
“That was yesterday. Today is today.”
And it didn’t matter if he was at a rehearsal or at a festival in front of 40,000 people. Lou didn’t care. Or rather, he cared more than anyone I’ve ever met about making the music ALIVE and in the PRESENT. He didn’t stand on ceremony, regardless of the environment.
Our first festival show was in England. The other guitarist/violinist, Tony Diodore, and I had never played in front of 40,000 people. It’s an overwhelming amount of energy. And on top of that, Iggy Pop and Patti Smith were watching us from the side of the stage.
Tony was taking a violin solo on the song “Ecstasy.” We had rehearsed a certain length for the solo and when we came to the end he wound down as planned. Lou yelled, “keep going!” And again, “keep playing!” Lou wouldn’t let up. He shouted it over and over.
At first Tony noodled a bit, but then something flipped and he started wailing. And the crowd went nuts. Lou taught him how to really play that day.
I see so many bands today that seem dead, like they’re running through the motions, afraid to make mistakes. Everything is so perfect—even when they’re trying to be punk, it’s so calculated. And I see it because of Lou.
The other day I was talking to guitar tech Stewart Hurwood about the awesomeness of sound checks with Lou. Most of the time bands’ sound checks involve running through a song, making sure everything is working properly, maybe a little rehearsing on something. But with Lou they were marathons, going two or three hours. Usually right until the doors opened.
We’d get really into the songs, making them better and better. And then better.
I remember one time in Bordeaux when he decided the saxophone sounded too much like a saxophone. “Let’s make it sound like something we’ve never heard before,” he said. And out came the pedals. Fuzzes and harmonizers and such.
Lou was on the ground twiddling the knobs and he was like a teenager again, just loving exploring the sound until he found that perfect cacophony. It reminded me of that beautiful space you’re in when you get your first fuzz pedal. You just love the sound. Lou was in that space all the time.
And the beautiful thing is that he didn’t have to do it. He was already in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. He was already famous and rich. And we only had a few shows left in the tour.
He could have just said, Ah it sounds fine. Or found one weird sound and have just gone with that. But he always kept pushing and pushing, constantly searching for the next level.
When Lou was 70 he did a record with Metallica. Think about how punk that is. Think about what you’ll be doing when you’re 70. It’s such a beautiful, moving record, but so few people took the time to dig into it. I’ve listened to it probably 100 times and played songs from it hundreds of times. I didn’t like it at first. It’s a very difficult record to listen to because it goes so deep into uncomfortable feelings we all spend so much time on the computer ignoring.
But if “Junior Dad” doesn’t move you to tears, well, you need to wake the fuck up.
The second to last show we ever played at together was at Leamington Spa in England. It actually wasn’t a spa, that’s just the name of the town. It was a really cool old theatre that maybe held 1000 people. And it had a really small stage. Before Lou arrived at sound check, we were all worried—because of the small size of the stage, we were all on top of each other, and the bass amp was actually in front of the band. This makes it tough for the whole band to play, because you lose that punch and rumble you have when the bass amp is behind you. Lou really cared about the sound and the power of the sound, so we were worried this would bother him. But when he arrived and saw the setup, he said, “It doesn’t matter. All that matters is that we have fun.”
I think this was a turning point. Of course he still cared, but on these last shows we played together we got back to something that’s even more important than making mind-blowing art: having fun playing rock n’ roll.
I’ll say one more thing.
We were in France on a rainy day in a hotel lobby, all dead tired from an early morning flight. In a few hours we had to play a festival in the rain.
Lou looked and me and said, “Aram, say something positive.” He’d say this to me now and then.
I said “Lou, look at how beautiful the trees are in the rain. They’re so green.”
And he smiled and said “Yeah, they’re beautiful.”
And we sat and looked at them for a bit.
I miss you, Lou.
Lou Reed – the Warrior Prince of Taijiquan
On NPRs Fresh Air program today, Lou was commemorated by his previous long-time publicist, Bill Bentley, in a report entitled, ‘Never Back Down’, who aptly described Lou as a “Rock & Roll Warrior”. For me, his Taiji brother and for his beloved teacher, Ren Guangyi, we would also describe him as a Taiji Warrior who represented the highest ideals of martial arts.
Lou energized and inspired us with with his enduring love of Taijiquan – to which he credited for the health and vitality he displayed for years. To that, Lou worked consistently to spread the powerful message of Taiji, a martial art that gave him so much joy and well-being, that he truly wanted the whole world to experience what Taiji gave him. With Ren Guangyi by his side, he exposed parts of the world never before privy to authentic Chen style Taiji with over 150 live performances globally, featuring Ren performing Taiji live with Lou’s band. From this extraordinarily prescient work, Lou promoted Taiji in unprecedented venues, including a performance on the David Letterman show, a concert at the Winter Olympics closing ceremony in Turin, Italy, and a pioneering display and instruction of Taiji at the Sydney Opera House. With press appearances, personal testimonies, a pilgrimage to Taiji’s birthplace, Chenjiagou, and most recently his affection for our film collaboration, Final Weapon, Lou spread the message of the wonders of Taiji to millions. HIs appearance in Final Weapon and his generous sharing of his music gave me the once in a lifetime opportunity to employ his music as the fuel for our cinematic capture of what he always described as the visceral power of Taijiquan.
So for me and Ren, two martial artists who found deep inspiration and support from Lou, we are eternally grateful for his sharing, blessing, and sheer love for an art understood best by those in the know. With his decades-long commitment to Chinese martial arts and his final ten years devouring Chen Taijiquan like only a warrior can, he was a knight errant for Taijiquan of the highest order who was also a real martial arts tough guy with genuine Taiji skill.
All of which we were most privileged to see when Lou carried his classical Chinese weapons with him. I recall a verse of his that described himself as flying with a sword strapped to his back. This is exactly how Ren and I remember him – a boundless Kung Fu Warrior Prince with the fearless heart of a lion, who soared with a sword on his back, and possessed the soul of a kingly father.
And as brothers in arms in martial arts, Ren and I always had his back when he was here and will continue to do so. We will never let anyone forget his legacy of creativity, courage, inspiration, and warmth embodied by his incredible, enduring passion for Taijiquan.
Stephan Berwick & Ren Guangyi
In 2003 Lou and I had been talking a lot about Buddhism. He kept saying that he’d like to find a meditation teacher.
On Friday night September 26 I invited Lou and Laurie to the Shambhala Center to hear Mingyur Rinpoche, a young Tibetan teacher for whom I had a great deal of affection and respect, give a talk on tranquility meditation.
Mingyur Rinpoche talked about music and mindfulness. Afterwards, Lou said that he really liked him and that he’d like to meet him. The next night there was a dinner party for Mingyur Rinpoche and Lou and Laurie and I went together.
Mingyur Rinpoche was seated cross-legged in a green wing chair. Lou was sitting on a straight-backed chair across from him. I was seated on a hassock at their feet, trying to facilitate the introduction. From his questions, it was obvious to me that Mingyur Rinpoche had absolutely no idea who Lou was.
Lou asked Rinpoche if he could teach him how to meditate. Rinpoche answered confidently, with great good cheer, that he could. At that very moment I clearly saw an arc of golden light shoot out of Mingyur Rinpoche’s heart straight into the middle of Lou’s heart and I thought, “Holy shit, Rinpoche is Lou’s teacher.”
And he was.
Joan J. Buck
I met Lou through Bob Wilson, in December 2000, on the opening night of POEtry at the Chatelet in Paris. There was a dinner at the house of a woman named Luziah Hennessy. I’d just lost my job and was a little fragile. Bob had not arrived and the other guests were all a little scared of Lou; “Go speak to him, you’re American” they said. I sat next to him on the couch. He didn’t look too thrilled; it was midnight and dinner was nowhere near being served. We began to talk about ravens and Poe and tales of fantasy and imagination, and Science Fiction. I told him about the children’s books that had surprised and enchanted me, Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials. He was curious, playful, sharp, and very funny. We carried on talking when dinner was served, and through dinner, and when we all left I thought I would never see Lou Reed again.
Three years later, someone took me to the dinner for the Tribeca Film Festival down at the courthouse on Bowling Green. My date and I were separated, my table was crap, so instead of sitting down I wandered around.
There was Lou, sitting with Ingrid Sischy. I stopped and wondered if he would remember our meeting. His head turned to me, he focused, and said “Those books, I read them, they’re not Science Fiction, they’re fantasy, I didn’t like them.” A seat was freed next to him, I sat down, and we started talking again, and didn’t stop for nine years.
mar 2nd 1942 somewhere in NY a life is born. on the other side of the world a few days later on mar 9th of the same year – another new life brought into the big wide world. who knew what lay ahead for either ?
during these past few weeks i’ve struggled to put this into some sort of perspective. tried to find words of comfort to share with those of us who knew him and those who wanted to know him. my heart swinging like a pendulum – sorrow, anger, frustration, disbelief, curiosity, emptiness – empty, empty, hollow. staring at walls. crying. yelling, sobbing my fool head off. wringing my hands with frustration of not being able to yell at Lou for not taking care!
We both have that same damn bad liver — of all the things not to do – watch our liver Lou!
so much was shared with the boy i met some 48 years ago. no other person seemed to get me the same way.
we got each other. he was wordy from the start, me, with my strange foreign accent that no one could understand – lou didn’t need me to slow down or re-explain my odd syntax or unrecognizable formation of words – he got me –
and i got him.
much will always be made of the band we formed together in my dingy little living room apartment – i’ll leave those remarks for others – i prefer to consider how much i gained from my friendship with Lou – the part the rest of the world is not privy to. the dreams, ideas and plans we shared and to a degree, achieved. Lyrics that went straight to the unconscious and trawled the corners – the darker the better – but always to make things better – and better – and better – it was a relationship of many colors – from red hot to ice blue — never dull and always true.
much has been made of our differences – but throughout it all – we managed to remain attached. regardless of our differences – we never really drifted too far from what initially brought us together.
I guess that’s what real friendship is – and i really miss my friend.
The very first collaboration I did with Lou, Junior Dad, started from processing Rob Wasserman on upright bass, and it unfolded from there. Years later we got to record it and perform it with another of my childhood heroes, just one in the long list of unforgettable experiences created by Lou Reed. The Metallica arrangement was a genuine act of fate, everything fell in to place with no planning or discussion whatsoever. Whether in the studio or on tour, performing this song was such an emotional experience for all the musicians involved, you pretty much had to end the set with it. But I will always remember this night in Dresden last summer, where for some reason unplanned fireworks started going off during the show, and Lou immediately started incorporating them in to the lyrics. He was such a master improviser, and could use language like no one I’ve ever known. The spontaneous genius of Lou Reed was truly unlike any other.
Anne Carson & Bob Currie
Are you ready
I have nothing
As in heartfelt
L IS FOR LOU AN ALPHABET
Right now at this moment the meeting of three axes (not deer) here at this point now right now
A is for Andy and all that he didn’t feel like explaining.
B is for brand names waxing and waning.
C is for calming the mother who has the curious journey before her.
D is for the deep difficult devotions of the explorer.
E is for encouraging Edwina to move every tree slightly but exceptionally.
F is for feeling fundamentally fine when standing alone at the sea.
Safety on the leeside gestures smoothed in tidal field rowing rowing rowing
G is for generational gap and the ghosts of the family tree.
Ghosts with a gazelle ease jumping back and forth and back across implied barrier of future present and past
H is for having friends constant.
I is for nothing good being instant.
J is for junk.
K for never liked punk.
L is for Lulu and the simple sins that caught her.
M for Master Ren, the Edgar Allan Poe of tai chi and general transcendental marauder.
Are you ready? held in a vessel of literacy and wisdom a lightness settles and you float from your toes
N is followed by
O which spells NO rhymes I could think of here sounded quite correct.
P Is for every day being a good day or maybe even perfect.
Q is for questions that are almost never indirect.
I have nothing to say there is a grand beautiful birch blocking what I am compelled to see something just beyond down the block a sideways fascination the beginning of a song
R is for the fathomlessly perverse favourtism of rock n’ roll.
S is for trying to do something hearty.
As in heartfelt and full of art
T is for two minutes max at this party.
U is the urgent urchin hiding beneath urbanity.
V for varying the velvet leash of vanity
W for appreciating obsolete technologies like wawa and white-out
The unlimited choices an owl or a creek a rush of wind coos and falls a complex case of white noise
X again followed by O is “love” at the end of a sign-out.
Y is for the ambush of youth and escaping it year by year.
Z is for zero, derived from the Sanskrit word meaning
nothing more to fear.
It’s through Andrew Wylie, the renowned literary agent, that I met Lou Reed. He had given me the the proofs of Pass Thru Fire–telling me that, in his opinion, it was the work of the greatest living poet in the English language. And when I read the book on the plane back from New York, I was able to see just how much he was telling the truth. These texts (from “Waiting for the Man” or “Heroin” to “Ecstasy,” by way of “Walk on the Wild Side”) were chiseled like diamonds that lit up the backdrop, bringing the underside of the modern world to the music and poetry scene. Soon afterwards, I decided to publish the book in French in my collection in a bilingual edition, with a translation that as a rule stuck to the original text as closely as possible.
And so I called Andrew Wylie, at the end of 2006, to close the deal. Several minutes later, he called to tell me that Lou Reed wanted to meet me, and that he was about to catch a flight at JFK to do a concert in Paris. Chance was on our side.
The next day, while seated at my desk in the calm of a gray morning, I received the incredible call. That voice, so toned, so beautiful, so particular. A date was set to have lunch together. The connection was immediate: we talked about Burroughs, Kerouac (we had separately both gone to the thrilling exhibition dedicated to him at the New York Public Library), music, oysters, and language–his, and that of his texts, which was going to be rendered into French. He was worried about certain texts: notably “Halloween Parade,” whose meaning he worried would get lost or be misinterpreted (as had happened with some subtitles at a concert in Italy).
Afterwards, it was an enchantment. Always. A marvelous friendship. Because Lou Reed had a bad reputation with quite a few journalists (with those who had not prepared, or who had wanted to be clever: he had an uncanny ability to sniff them out by the end of the second sentence), they called him impossible, curt, hard, capricious; but having assisted at some of these interviews, I can cay that he was never wrong (he would tell me after the meetings with unprepared interlocutors: “Watch, they’re going to say I’m difficult”). Yes, he had this reputation–one given to him by fools and lightweights. But he was and remains a marvellous friend, generous, attentive, confiding. Each time I went to New York, he was thoughtful enough to always plan something exceptional: a concert, a reading or a get-together, an exhibition (last February, we went to see the magnificent retrospective for Basquiat at the great Gagosian gallery in Chelsea: he would stop in front of the paintings–all so well-chosen–and would watch us, with a wink, or a smile, or with an admirative curl in his lip). Once, because he knew of my passion for sports, he even took me to watch the Knicks play at Madison Square Garden; we were seated in the front row, two meters from the court; it was a fantastic suspenseful game where the final two points for the home team victory had to be verified by video. He was happy the game was so good (I recount this because I tell myself it gives him pleasure to hear these memories, these beautiful moments which are scrolling through my head, and in his; I am sure he is smiling under the Long Island trees).
And then there were the restaurants. The ones in New York near his apartment; he regularly discovered new ones, and was happy to share them with his small circle of friends. On the evening of his seventieth birthday, at a small party organized for the occasion, we tasted subtle Japanese compositions at David Bouley’s restaurant on Hudson Street. In Paris, he loved going to William Ledeuil’s Ze Kitchen–as well as Chez Betty, near Place Gambetta, where we were lovingly and simply welcomed in the back room, around a large table.
The most beautiful hours spent with Lou were those when we were working together– particularly in his large loft with bay windows looking out on to the Hudson. One never knew when it would begin: I sometimes waited a long time while he was doing this and that; and then all of a sudden, he would sit down, we would get to it, and it was unbelievably intense. Lou always had this exceptional ability to concentrate, and never gave up before having found the best solution, the only one. Sometimes, we would try out different things; but most often, we would just simply understand each other. It would surprise him, and he would laugh and slap me on the back. I loved how he called me “Bernard” (putting the accent on the “a”), and I will endlessly hear the rough affection that he put into this intonation. Looking back on it, it was a friendship at first sight that developed into an unwavering friendship, one founded on absolute trust and complicity at all times. To be his friend was a great happiness, with demands for perfection that could not be let down. He gave so much. When I won the Prix Goncourt for Short Stories in 2011, he was so pleased that he immediately had a bottle of Dom Pérignon and some precious documents sent to me. That was Lou: thinking of others with dazzling flair.
For a long time, I wanted to make a large book of the photos that he himself had taken over the years. I wanted to make THE book. Thanks to Éditions Photosynthèses and to Vera Michalski, this dream materialized in the form of Rimes / Rhymes–an enormous volume which I know was the last great pleasure in his life. An artistic pleasure, on which we had worked together for a year, exchanging nearly one hundred succesive layouts, and spending hours and days together–seeking out the best solution, the one opening on to a form of truth.
Others are talking about, and will continue to talk about for a long time, the enormous musician and singer he was over the past half-century–always inventing a new form and a new path, never stuck in repetion or routine. Lou Reed is a genius. He is tomorrow’s man. Death can do nothing to him.
Davide de Blasio
I was so sorry I missed you last week in the springs,
On sunday morning, for that great day out !
..but you know, I need to work a lot
And make our projects perfect and great as you (and me) are awaiting..
And then there’s baby Lou…
He’s five now and .. so demanding.. as you should say
I’m so glad you’ll guard him
We were eating – of course – italian food somewhere
When I told you that I was expecting a baby
In a moment you told me “why don’t you call him Lou ? ”
In a second I said YES “but you’ll be his godfather !”
So it worked between us !!
So we did !!
Celebrating his baptism in that Naples’s church
You wanted to dedicate Guardian Angel to him
I was so moved for your gravity and concentration
As much as in the solemnity of your sound checks..
I was in the springs on june
A close place for you two.. beautiful and peaceful
and even to me now so beloved
You told me “They cut me in two !”
And then we jumped aboard your Audi
and we wandered around
from an Hampton seaside to another
your dog seated on my legs
you proudly drove in the soft wind of a summer night
“Hey ! I’m Lou Reed ! I don’t care at all !”
I was supposed to be there for a short while
But it was our perfect day..
Swim into the pool, stretch our legs,
Later a cold shower too
And then home..
I scratched leftovers fishbones from your barbecue
..I never did it before
and I cooked 2 giant T-bones
..and I never did it before too
Too late for the last Jitneys to Nyc
And I didn’t want seriously to leave..
You showed me the guest house for the night
A funny TV show
A doze, a laugh, a look..
We’ve never talked too much
And when I used to say “Lou, sorry for my bad english”
You just answered “Davide we’re parallel !”
I think of you !
ou, now I’ve to go.. I need to work..
And baby Lou is calling me from his bedroom
He wants another heroes-tale before sleeping
I’d tell him about a genius and a hero that I know
Bigger than sky, brighter than a star, sweeter than the southern wine
But I don’t know how..
Shrouded eyes, calm heart, calm as an angel..
with very much love
your friend forever
I played with Lou on his last two European tours as violinist, guitarist and backing vocalist. Once I heard the news I spoke with my friend who had been playing with him for some time and who actually got me the “audition” with him and recounted how strange the process was getting the gig.
He needed a guitar player and my friend was in great confidence with Lou. He told me I could audition for the spot but that I should really bring my violin. I didn’t want to as I hadn’t been practicing much at the time, but he insisted. So after some cajoling I brought the violin with the guitar to the audition at Lou’s studio which was just a couple blocks from my apartment. I had to learn 3 songs: Dirty Blvd, Halloween Parade and another I can’t remember. It didn’t matter anyway because the only song we played was Sweet Jane. The guitar audition was pretty easy considering Sweet Jane is 4 chords, but he got really excited about the violin. I was completely terrified and totally in aw
The audition was so stress free that I thought there had to be a catch. I didn’t play very hard or show off any. The second gig on the tour was at the Hop Farm festival in England. We played after Patti Smith and before The Stooges. There were 25,000 people there. I’d never seen anything like it from a stage. And during the song, Ecstasy, he walked over to me and said “play a solo”. I took off. Hard. He came over again and said “play fast”. So I did. Then he yelled “play fast!” so I fucking did. I believe that was the audition. I think what’s interesting is that Lou took a chance on me. A lot of people spend a lot of time hoping the industry will take notice, and at some point you need someone to take a chance on you. Put themselves on the line and believe enough in you to give you a shot. It’s rare. And Lou did that for me. I’ll be forever grateful.
It’s a terrible day.
I met Lou right after he and the artist, Laurie Anderson, became a couple and if he became less flinty and friendlier, it was due to her. I remember walking through the West Village with him one night and telling me, “Everyday, I think of a new way to adore her.” He smiled the big smile. There are damned few photographs of that smile–if any– but if you ever saw him play live, you know the one I am talking about. I spent many nights in their company and I’ll tell you this , Lou and Laurie knew how to be in love. When they married in 2008, I saw Laurie backstage after one of her performances at the Harris Theater, and she told me, “Me and Lou got married. Isn’t that crazy?” The whole time I knew Lou and Laurie, they were never happier than when they were with each other. At times. I thought of them as one beings; odd as that sounds, given their distinctive and iconic artistic identities. – Tony Fitzpatrick
More thoughts from Tony below… click each drawing for a different story.
Lunch with Lou
The first time I met Lou he suggested we get together and discuss photography and music, among other things. He said” Call me anytime, I’m self-employed…”
As we became friends we would meet for lunch and discuss music and photography. This usually transpired at St. Ambroeus in the West Village……
During one of these early get-togethers he mentioned that :”You can read the book and it will take a week; or you can see the movie and it will take two hours; or…you can set a poem to melody and get the entire story in three minutes…”
I credit Lou with introducing me into the digital age. He asked me several times to do the camera on “Red Shirley” but I declined because it was just too much hard work with the big film cameras and I was not at all inclined. Then he showed me his Canon 5D Mark ll and I quickly agreed to collaborate with him. We became close friends during this project because we shared our creative inspiration and vulnerability together. No better way to become friends. As I warmed to the digital idea of photography he said in passing ..”I’ve waited all my life for digital..” I should add that I have not exposed a roll of film for over a year since Leica approached me to endorse the Monochrom. I continue to recall our exchanges from last summer when he was passionately embracing his photography. He made this portrait of me was made Sept. 2013.
I saw Lou four times the week before he died and we discussed focusing techniques and camera handling ideas. He was an artist up to his last breath.
I cannot quite understand how or why he remains so vivid in my life even now months later. He might be the friend that never really left, never really died…..
Freddie Gershon and Master Ren
March 2nd is coming up soon and it’s Lou’s birthday.
I was working out with Ren this morning. We both concluded that Lou is still here and very much a part of our lives. His presence/essence is with us. We began to talk about our respective observations on what we both agree was a unique, indeed sui generis character.
It is rare to find people who march to their own drummer, who have the courage, resilience, tenacity and fortitude to ignore naysayers, to be willing to be criticized, to be willing in their beliefs to be genuine, outrageous, daring and spend a lifetime being adventuresome, learning and discovering.
Lou was exactly that and he wasn’t doing it as “pretention” or as an “affectation” or to be “noticed”. It was just going with what he felt – and in the course of that what emerged was a consistently growing talent, an intellectual curiosity for new/different, enhancing the craft of his work and his great gifts.
What the world may not have known was that the Lou that Ren and I saw was a mentsch.
He oozed decency, kindness and compassion… For a man perceived as contentious and at times confrontational and “difficult”, he had the soft, gentle, warm, giving generosity of spirit that goes with mentsch-like decency.
His Tai Chi was a religious experience of spirituality as much as a physical experience of energy and excitement.
To live life with passion, doing what you want to do, with whom you want to do it, to constantly reinvent yourself, to create new chapters of your life by your own hand, to be in control and keep your hand on the rudder of your life and be willing to encounter any currents, any obstacles and to be able to go upstream against the tide, not for the sake of being different but because it’s who you are leaves its mark on those you know… The monument is in the music. The monument is in the man. It’s not granite. It isn’t chiseled on the side of the building. He was here. He left a mark. He understood who he was. We will never forget.
We are all travelers, traveling on the same road, going to the same place. How we get there is different. When we get there is different, but we all get there. And if we’re fortunate, we will all have a reunion with Lou and hopefully it will be outré, rowdy, tender and joyful all at the same time… Maybe even Lolabelle working on the keyboard!
Ordinarily, people say “rest in peace”… We want your definition of peace to be the same as what gave you pleasure in life and that you’re still being a maverick and doing the after-life your way,breaking rules and being true to yourself(as usual…)
Happy Birthday, Lou… we love you… we miss you.
Freddie Gershon & Master Ren
Lou was very protective of the people that he loved, and Lou loved my father. That love often spilled over onto my mother, my sister and me. Lou cared for us all in very wonderful and different ways. Over the years Lou took the time to chat with me about art and photography, we talked about pain (migraines) and we talked about love.
Lou looked out for me when I was a teenager on tour with him in Europe during “Set the Twilight Reeling.” During college he spent time getting to know my boyfriend by challenging him to a pizza eating contest at Totonos in Coney Island. And in the summer of 2003 Lou was ordained, and married Sebastian and me at our home on the lake.
It was a beautiful day it late August, one of the only beautiful days that summer, which had been filled with rain. Sebastian and I had met in college, I was at Brown, he was at RISD. Sebastian had approached me for the first time with an opening line of, “So I hear your parents made a movie about Lou Reed, I’d really like to see it, can I come over some time and we can watch it?” — I told Lou he had been part of the pickup, he loved it.
Although it was not the most traditional wedding, I did wear white, and Sebastian wore black. Lou wore red, Lou was a clothes horse. He picked a beautiful dark red silk jacket with small buttons for the occasion, which he wore over a black collared t-shirt. Initially we thought he might like to use a microphone, but he didn’t care for it once he got up there and tossed the thing away almost immediately making his characteristic “yeah right” face. It can be quite scary to get married, and I was 24, but having Lou there was reassuring. Other people have a “wedding song”, Sebastian and I have “I’ll Be Your Mirror” read by Lou as our ceremony. It was a perfect day.
When Lou took an interest in something, he became obsessed – this extended far beyond music. He was obsessed with the Sopranos before anyone, he was a photography fanatic and everyone knows about his love affair with martial arts. He’d go all the way. It’s just the way he was.
Lou first started giving me shit about martial arts after college. “You speak Chinese, but you don’t do Tai Chi?” he laughed. I had tried Tai Chi, but I wanted to find something that could really teach me to kick someone’s ass. He liked that, but he shook his head. “No. Tai Chi.”
The next time I saw him, he had clearly been thinking about it. “Wing Chun. That’s the answer. It’s good for little people like you. Bad ass.” I got excited. But then he was honest with me. It was really hard, took years to learn. He wanted to think about it more. “Tai Chi, Lily. Tai Chi.”
Then we were at dinner and he punched me in the arm, hard. “Jiu Jitsu!” “Jesus. What’s that?” “I’ve spent enough time on this. Look it up.”
He loved to be brusque, but I took his advice and started taking classes at a Dojo in the East Village. He loved that. Lou would surreptitiously check in with my father and even email me every once in a while about it. Then again at dinner, “How hard can you hit? What are you learning? Show me.” He’d ask me to punch him and then critique the force of my follow through. It’s a little intimidating to punch Lou Reed and have him say, “That’s not hard. Harder. The digging in at the end is the most important. You’d have learned that if you took Tai Chi like I told you to.” Then he’d break into the slightest smile to let me know he was messing with me, but he wasn’t really – he was right.
I got injured three years into my practice and had to stop while getting my green belt. I was very upset about it. Jiu Jitsu had become a big part of my life. Lou was very disappointed, but understanding. Our relationship dynamic shifted, quite naturally, to another common obsession of ours – television.
The last time I saw him, he was very sick. He came to a movie screening with my father and me at MOMA. On the way there, we ran through a list of shows we had been bingeing on. I forget who brought up “The Killing” – maybe my dad. “Lou,” I said. “Did you know that Joel Kinneman is Swedish? He’s been doing an American accent this entire time.” Lou turned around very slowly. I remember exactly how slowly because I worried that he wasn’t feeling well enough to attend the movie. In Tai Chi, you don’t wind up before you punch, you do it out of nowhere and that’s what he did – the blow landed on my shoulder and it was so hard that I had a bruise for a week. “YOU ARE LYING,” he said. “Joel Kinneman?”
We arrived at the Museum and the press spotted Lou. I was a little glad because I could taste the punch in my mouth and was trying to pretend it didn’t hurt. We walked the media line, went into the screening and sat down. Throughout the movie, he kept leaning over to me in the darkness. “You were full of shit before, right?” People were starting to turn around to see who was talking during a movie. I pulled up the Wikipedia page, something I would never do at a screening for anyone but Lou. I knew he’d keep obsessing over it if I didn’t. He grabbed the screen and held it up to look because Lou always did whatever he wanted. He handed the phone back to me and shook his head, “Isn’t that amazing.”
SHA LA LA, MAN
When Lou Reed asked me, “Emily Haines, who would you rather be, the Beatles or the Rolling Stones,” I shot back, “The Velvet Underground.” Quick thinking, sure, but also the truth. In our song “Gimme Sympathy,” we lament the fact that none of us living today are likely to achieve the stature or saturation the signature acts of that era enjoyed. But for me none of that music comes close to the contribution Lou Reed has made to the world. It’s immeasurable. Famously cranky, his integrity is unrivaled. He irritated everyone with difficult music. He refused to spend his life re-writing “Walk on the Wild Side,” effectively sparing himself a lifetime of boring conversations with fools. Anyone who couldn’t see that his tough exterior was an essential shield for the man who gave us “Pale Blue Eyes,” with all its intimacy and relatable sadness, has missed the point of his life completely.
I’m not one to proclaim fated encounters, but it seems as though everyone I know who had the power to bring Lou and me together used it to make it happen. A strange combination of forces channeled Hal Willner through Kevin Drew through Kevin Hearn through Neil Young’s “A Man Needs a Maid” and that was that. When we finally did meet, it was obvious and easy, like an idea that’s been floating around for years and then one day emerges effortlessly, fully formed. Our connection was free of the fawning fandom and nauseating idolatry that so often characterizes such show biz interactions between a young woman and an older man. He was never condescending. I didn’t worship him. We talked about my late father Paul Haines’ recordings of Albert Ayler, we talked about Escalator Over the Hill, we talked about Roswell Rudd and Henry Grimes. This thin man with gold teeth and clear engaging eyes was a thrill to be with, and his barbed wire wit made hanging with him like a tightrope walk. You couldn’t drift.
People always seemed afraid to be straight with Lou but I wasn’t. At the rehearsal for our performance at Vivid Festival at the Sydney Opera House in 2010 (an event he curated with Laurie Anderson), he couldn’t remember the guitar part for “Cremation,” the song he wanted me to sing with him. I said, “You have to remember. You have to play the guitar,” and the room fell silent as though I had hit the height of blasphemy. But he just looked at me and said, “You’re right.”
Persuading him to play “Pale Blue Eyes” when he joined Metric onstage for “The Wanderlust” at Radio City Music Hall in 2012 required a more nuanced approach and I’ll always remember the golden look of approval he gave our guitarist, Jimmy Shaw, when he played that delicate guitar line onstage that night.
An essential thing people seem to miss when they think of Lou Reed is the scope of his sense of humor. When he invited me to play with him at the Shel Silverstein tribute concert in Central Park in 2011, I was the straight man, backing him up on piano and vocals as he turned the song “25 Minutes to Go” into a roast of Mayor Bloomberg’s New York for billionaires.
Near the end, there were things Lou wanted to do that his poor health prevented. We had planned to perform together at Coachella but he wasn’t well enough and had to cancel. More recently, his visit to Toronto became impossible and I found myself standing around talking to Mick Rock instead, looking at photographs of the glamorized Lou when really the person I wanted to see was the man that had made it through all those years and married Laurie Anderson, the man who continued to live and love and create. I hijacked the DJ’s playlist at the gallery, forced everyone to listen to “O Superman” and gave a big drunk speech about it. I guess you could say it was an early expression of the grief that was to come.
Kevin Hearn has played in Lou Reed’s band for years. Hearn and I have been working on some new recordings of my songs, just vocals and piano. A survivor of blood cancer himself, Kevin visited Lou and Laurie many times throughout Lou’s treatment in Cleveland. It appeared for a while there that Lou was on the mend, but in recent weeks his condition declined. When Lou called for him a few days ago, Kevin feared the worst. He wrote to me late last night, “I went to see Lou in Cleveland. He had to go back in the hospital. He is not doing too well I’m sad to say. Laurie was there too. They asked what I have been up to and I told them about the songs. They wanted to hear something so I played them ‘Dedicated.’ I hope you don’t mind. They really liked it.” I fell asleep last night hoping my voice had been of some comfort to him. And when I woke up, I found out he was dead.
The first time I sang “Perfect Day” for him, Lou said, “You have to bring more pain to it. You’re not singing about a fucking picnic.” Consider it done.
Playing “Cremation” with Lou was heavy enough at the time, but now that he’s gone the lyrics just break my heart. “The coal black sea waits for me me me/ the coal black sea waits forever/ when I leave this joint/ at some further point/ the same coal black sea/ will it be waiting?”
In his last message to me, Lou wrote, “I’m so sorry Emily I would’ve if I could have but I’m a little under the weather but I love you.” I love you, too.
It was Oct. 27, 2013, and I was looking out the window of my little hotel room. Looking at New York City. New York had been changed forever. My world had been changed forever: Lou Reed was gone. Only months before, we had been working on the setlist for Lou’s show at the 2013 Coachella festival. It was going to be great. To me, Lou is as synonymous with New York as the Empire State Building, Central Park or the Statue of Liberty standing in Lou’s beloved Hudson River, which his apartment overlooked. Before I had ever been to New York, my perception of the city was shaped by the imagery, mood and spirit that runs through all of his work. With a sense of disbelief I began to try and fathom how I became such close friends with Lou. He had been my musical hero for most of my life. Alone in New York, for the first time in what would become a series of daily episodes, I began to cry like I hadn’t cried in a long, long time. Long ago, I was nine years old, playing outside when I heard “Walk On the Wild Side” on a portable radio. I was completely drawn into it: Lou’s voice, his lyrics, that unforgettable bass line, the rhythm guitar playing D and G6, the sound of brushes on the snare, the incredible saxophone solo, and of course the backup singers. I sat and waited to find out from the DJ who this was.
I had to hear it again. I asked my cool older sister, Mary Pat, if she had heard of Lou Reed, and she actually owned a copy of Transformer! And then, well, she didn’t, because I still have it in my collection, 35 years later.
I had a photo of a young, relaxed-looking Lou in my locker all through high school. His songs helped me through so many situations, showing that it was OK to feel sad, mad or curious, or to allow yourself to have a dark sense of humour about difficult personal situations. When life got tough, I would sing Lou’s beautiful song “Jesus” out loud, over and over, and it always made me feel better. I bought every one of his records and learned all of his songs. What a chest of treasures.
Had I never met him, Lou still would have had a huge personal impact on my life. Lou reached people all over the world and it’s been nice to see the outpouring of love and respect for him after his passing. When I was out with Lou, so many people would thank him, or walk up to just say they loved him. In Italy, there were people chasing our car, reaching in the windows, asking Lou to touch them. He really gave us a gift through his dedication to his work, his honesty and his mandate of always playing and singing from the heart. His sweet, bruised, romantic rock ’n’ roll heart, beating with love, passion, anger and an inspiring joy for life.
I met Lou over the phone in 1999. Barenaked Ladies were with Reprise Records then and label head Howie Klein called him and introduced us. I told Howie I was a fan and he just picked up the phone and called Lou Reed and handed the phone to me! I was a little nervous, to say the least, but Lou was very nice, very cool.
Cut to a few months later and I was suddenly fighting for my life, having been diagnosed with leukemia. Blood cancer. I had to have a bone marrow transplant. I was so weak, barely able to stand, and going through the worst experience of my life when I received an email from Lou: “Hi Kevin it’s Lou, I hope you get better and get back to your music soon.” I was floored.
What a lovely gesture from a man who was often portrayed in the press as a cantankerous, grumpy asshole. I know there was way more to Lou than those one-sided portrayals. I had been listening to his Magic and Loss while I was in and out of the hospital for two years. The album was based on the cancer experience, and the loss of two of his good friends. I was living that experience at the time and I was amazed how Lou was able to capture so many of its complexities.
As I slowly became healthy again, I was inspired to make a solo record based on my experiences fighting cancer. By some strange fate, I ended up working in a recording studio owned by Jeremy Darby, who was Lou’s longtime soundman. Lou actually phoned in and made a cameo on the record, which I named “H-Wing,” the floor where I was treated at Princess Margaret hospital in Toronto. When Lou heard it, he said, “Kevin, you have made something very beautiful. You have returned from somewhere most people don’t come back from — to report about it.”
In 2001, Lou, his bassist Fernando Saunders and guitarist Mike Rathke began showing up at any shows I played in New York, and when Lou attended the premiere of his movie Berlin in Toronto, he invited Jeremy and I along. At the after-party, he said, “Kevin, next time you are in New York give me a call. Let’s see if we can play together.”
A month later, I was sitting in Mike Rathke’s kitchen jamming with Lou as he called out requests and challenged me to come up with ideas on the spot. He cleared his schedule the next day and invited me to his place to play some more. Walking to his place, I felt the way I did in high school when I was starting to play in bands, excited and hopeful of finding kindred spirits to play with. Was it possible that I could be that with Lou?
When I got to his apartment on the Hudson, Lou was excited about his new Moog Voyager synthesizer. He asked me to play a melodic idea he had in his head. He sang it over and over until I got it right. He said, “OK Kevin, just keep playing that.” Then he sat down with a pen and paper and wrote lyrics. They were so great, dark, tender and funny. I will never forget that day.
I had been warned about working with Lou: “If he yells at you, don’t talk back.” I always listened to what he said and didn’t take it personally. He just wanted everything to sound right and ring true. It wasn’t always easy, but it was always exciting, challenging and deeply rewarding. It changed the way I play music forever.
In one of our rehearsal breaks, Lou said, “Kevin, I hope you are OK with the way I work. Some people don’t like it.” I said, “Lou I can take it. I’m here for you, to help you achieve your vision. How can I do that if you don’t communicate it to me?” Shortly after that he appointed me bandleader. I ran the rehearsals, the soundchecks and wrote up the setlists together with Lou. He was always in charge, of course, I just got things up and running, made suggestions and kept notes. I would sing the vocals while Lou sat out front and listened to the way things sounded. He always cared. He was at every soundcheck.
At one rehearsal, after running through “Sad Song,” I said, “Lou, you came in early on the second verse.” He replied, “No I didn’t. When I come in, it’s right.” End of discussion! As a band, we had to stay on our toes and be ready to zig or zag wherever he decided to go. If he was enjoying a song, he might just go right back to the beginning and sing the whole thing over again. He might suddenly command you to play a solo where there had never been one before. It made each show unique and alive.
Every night onstage, Lou would walk over and say something to me. At first I was terrified, but I grew to enjoy it. He would say things like, “What you are playing is too smart. More rock and roll!” or “Relax” or “Play harder!” One night he walked over to me and said, “Kevin I couldn’t do this without you.” Sure, Lou.
Offstage, Lou loved to go out for dinners to just shoot the breeze and laugh. He had so many great stories. During tours, he loved to go to movies, plays and art galleries. He had an insatiable ap- petite for art and he loved to check out new music, though once he scolded me for not having enough Otis Redding on my iPad. He was so funny. On one of my visits to his Chelsea office, I was moved when I saw that he had framed and hung up one of my drawings on the wall.
I still find it hard to believe that Lou Reed played on my solo records. He let me play his guitars on tour. He took me to meet his family and friends. He gave me the beautiful gift of his friendship. There was a lot of love between us.
Sure, Lou could be short in interviews, but there was another side to him that few journalists have either experienced or admitted. For example, one day after a soundcheck, I met a young woman who could not walk. Her mom was pushing her in a wheelchair. The young lady was thrilled that we were playing “Think It Over” because it was her favourite song. But she wondered if we could play it earlier in the set, as she and her mom had to leave early to catch the last train home. I mentioned it to Lou at dinner and without hesitation he asked me to find out where they lived, then he hired a limousine to drive them home, which was in another town, so they could watch the whole show. He really, truly felt for people who were dealt tough cards and he made time for them. He’d done it with me years before.
I was about to go onstage about a year ago when Lou called me. He told me they had found some cancer on his liver and knew I had been through this. He asked if he could call me if he needed to. It was an honour. From then on, I was there with Lou in person whenever I could be. I knew the ropes. We had deeper conversations than we’d ever had and we became closer. One day he just looked at me and said, “Oh Kevin. The fun we could have had.”
On tour, Lou had a pre-show ritual. When he was ready he would extend his hand out in front of him. We would then each put our hands on top of his. Then Lou would start chanting, “Success, success, success!” and we’d all lift our hands and let go. He liked to be connected with his band, and we were a team. At one of our last shows, we were performing Lou’s heartbreakingly personal song “Junior Dad.” We had turned it into a spoken word piece and Lou recited the lyrics while we played an atmospheric drone underneath.
It was a beautiful night in Dresden, Germany. A few blocks away, a big fireworks show began right in the middle of the song. I was worried that it would distract Lou and annoy him. Instead, while gesturing towards them, Lou improvised a poem about the fireworks:
State of grace,
Stars that never last forever, Stars that burn out, and disappear, The cheapest imitation of God, The cheapest imitation of God, A make believe sun,
State of grace.
Then he returned to “Junior Dad” as the audience cheered and the band built up and rocked out with Lou ’til the end of the song. It was just amazing. We all looked at each other, knowing this was truly special. Many of the band and crew had tears in their eyes. After the show, as I always did, I went to check in with Lou in his dressing room. I found him sitting, crying into his hands. He said, “Kevin, that was so hard. Those songs are so personal. I really gave everything I had tonight.” It was easily the most magical musical experience I have ever had. And now, of course, an incredible, painful loss has evened things out.
I cherish every minute I spent with Lou. He was a great artist, a great man and a great friend and mentor. Recently, I went for a walk by a peaceful river. A lone hawk glided overhead and then flew by me again, closer and lower. I comforted myself by thinking that it was Lou, watching me. He had turned himself into a majestic bird. Lou was cool enough to be able to do that.
I have so many memories of times with Lou, I could go on at length; he was my friend and an inspiration. I called him Sensei, a title I do not use lightly. We first met when I visited him in his New York flat to give him his first MIDI guitar in early 1988. We spent the evening jamming together, comparing gadgets and were friends from then on. We met up whenever he was in London, using the time to catch up on gossip, talk ‘guitars’ and run through some tai chi moves that he taught me.
I am a guitar player but he asked me to accompany him a few times on tour, looking after his Guitars. On other occasions he would call to tell me something special was happening and invite me along, like the time he was performing Metal Machine Music in Venice. I had told him what an inspiration it had been to me some years before and he remembered.
Then there was the time we were on tour, mostly acoustic, in Europe and had arrived in Granada, Spain to play in the Playwright Garcia L’Orca’s museum gardens. I got a message from Lou to meet him in the garden early that afternoon. They had brought L’Orca’s actual guitar (A small Flamenco jewel), from the museum and we spent a few hours sitting in the shade under a tree passing it between us and complimenting each other on our playing. He taught me a secret chord.
Another phone call from Lou. “Hey Markie, come to Ireland”. He was playing at the Liss Ard festival and we spent a few days hanging out together, including naming a tree each on the Liss Ard Estate. I believe Lou’s tree will still be growing there a hundred years from now – a fitting memorial to a man who cherished nature.
Hello? …. Allo ?… Anybody there?
Everybody is here and there at the same time.
This is something I’ve learned when I worked with Brion Gysin.
In 1972, for Christmas, my brother Gordon Matta-Clark gave me Transformer.
I was 12 and Gordon told me, “With this record you hear honesty and real music.”
I came across Lou Reed a few times in my life.
But I met Lou only in 2009.
Laurie introduced us because she new my Lizieres project.
We met because of Tai Chi and also because we shared the same love for “intentions”.
Laurie took those pictures that day.
You can see Lou as he was: full of generosity.
I have a few memories right now.
A few sentences:
“Tai Chi can protect you, Tai Chi can cure you, Tai Chi can save you.”
“Music makes all the energies of the universe to elevate inner space inside each of us”
Once we were back stage somewhere with Metallica and Lou says: “This is Ramuntcho, this man does what he says, and he put his money where is mouth is”… a few sentence that can give you strength and confidence to go ahead in your projects.
In this photo taken by Kari, Lou is asking me things about Tai Chi and energy.
Lou wanted to do his book about this.
I hope somebody can finish his book, his book about tai chi and energies.
This energy you can build with tai chi, you can use it to make art, to be really here. Here and there at the same time.
“Just practice. Inspiration comes from intention. And you build intention with practice”.
Lou was born in 1942. Like my brother Gordon.
By the grace of Laurie I have found a brother again.
He was like a “grand frere, un frattello grande”.
Any time, day or night, he would answer my messages.
He took risks for us.
Also the risk to make mistakes.
It is important to make risks, this is how we grow deeper.
But we do not have to make the same mistakes all the time.
Just enough to learn.
Lou was a real master of life.
He wanted us to be REAL.
Real in friendship,
Real in Love.
Real in work.
He wanted us to be HONEST.
To learn and teach.
He was full of curiosity.
At one moment I was working on a film on KALACHAKRA.
Another time we spoke about Antonin Artaud.
Lou was so intense every time on any subject.
He wanted every moment to be unique.
Once we went to a basement of a hotel and we practiced.
He wanted strength and energy.
“You have to be ready to fight back all the time.”
We did not agree on that.
I told him “To go faster you have to slow down.”
Back in the lobby we sat down.
I told him how to liquify. He was suddenly so relaxed.
He was learning new things at the speed of light.
I remember one word that made him explode with laughing:
The word was “business-plan.”
Thank you Lou for all those moments of grace and taste.
Thank you for being here and there.
Lou Reed Memorial at the Apollo
Memories of Charles Miller MD
I’m Charlie Miller and I was Lou’s surgeon from the Cleveland Clinic. Last night at the Bardo, I told the story of Lou’s illness and coming to Cleveland and willingness to fight for his life and how we went through it together.
Tonight, I thought I’d tell you about we came from doctor/patient; to friends. You’re all his friends, so you can understand much of what I’m going to tell you.
When a patient shows up, you start to look for something, in common. I had no idea-Rock icon—Surgeon from the Cleveland Clinic-l-What could we have in common? Well, actually, we both have our roots in New York-we grew up here and loved New York and we loved, at least the East End of Long Island, …I don’t want Long Island to get dissed all night long! And we both really enjoyed thinking outside the box and teaching young people what we learned.
So when Lou first came he was very sick, as you all know. A part of what this liver disease does is take part of your mind, part of your emotion and before the transplant, Lou have to come to Cleveland on and off to get certain treatments. He was getting sicker and sicker and a little crabbier and crabbier as time went along. One time he wanted to get back to New York really, really badly and he called me and said “Charlie, please come let me out of here, I want to go home!!” I said, “Lou, I will get there as soon as I can. I’ll walk over to say good bye”. On my way over, I got a phone call that a liver had materialized almost out of seemingly thin air, for Lou. So I walk in and I said, “Hi Lou, I know you want to go home, but I’ve got another idea. I think I have a liver for you.” He says “Are you shitting me!”? I said “no and I think I have a liver for you and as soon as it gets here, I’ll take a look at it.” He says to me “when can we go? When can go? When can we go!!? I said “In a couple of hours”. He says, “Alright…lets go”. Just like that! -Not a fear in his eyes-nothing. And off we went.
Now I’ll tell you – this is the first time I ever sewn to the rhythm of my patient’s music. And I’ll tell you, sewing to “Walking on the Wild Side” ain’t too bad.
It was a beautiful operation and after that, this operation takes the measure of a man, and Lou measured up in every way, and more. And as the encephalopathy, as the mind clears and his energy returned, we started to talk and by the way, Lou not only talked a lot but he was a really insightful and really good listener. So we begin to share things about our lives – about our mentors – I got to learn about Andy Warhol-He got to know about my mentors – Our dreams-our desires to teach people what we know -Our love for the air-for the sun- and the waters of East Hampton-Just breathing the air-For great food.
And we were able to share the summer in East Hampton together and it’s something I’ll never forget. It was extremely special. And I learned recently, that Lou in his poetic best, and I’ll never ever forget this said, “You know Charlie is like a new old friend.” It means a lot to me.
And I’ll tell you-I spoke to Lou all the time, if I wasn’t in the Hamptons and I was in Cleveland, we spoke on the phone all the time. And my wife Erica reminded me tonight that no matter how complicated, or difficult or fun the conversation was, it always ended with Lou saying, ” I love you Charlie” and I would say, ” I love you Lou.”
We all love you Lou.
I’m “Willner,” which is basically what Lou always called me. We met in 1985 on a record of artists doing Kurt Weill music. Our relationship started on the perfect note where we talked about doing “Pirate Jenny” or “Alabama Song,” and I said, “Why don’t you do ‘September Song’?” I was a young man courting the girls and it was a typical “WHY THE FUCK WOULD I DO THAT?” — hang-up and then a call-back a few minutes later: “That’s a great idea, you’re a real producer.”
Well, we were in touch on and off over the years. I would say we were friends. But then, starting in 1999 with the album Ecstasy until now, I became his faithful companion and producer, advisor, went to everything with him, and so much happened in those years. So many triumphs and frustrations.
One triumph I’ll just never forget was doing the album Berlin, which was this masterpiece that Lou made with Bob Ezrin in the early ’70s. It’s just this perfect, wonderful work which is hailed, I guess Rolling Stone put it in the best 500 records of all time but… when it came out… Steve Davis, Rolling Stone: “Lou Reed’s Berlin is a disaster. So patently offensive that one wishes to take some kind of physical vengeance on the artist that perpetrates them.” And that was basically the reaction. So all those years later, with Susan Feldman at St. Ann’s, we built this huge show with a choir, Bob came back and conducted the orchestra, and we took it on a tour through the Sydney Opera House, all through Europe, and I got to introduce it in Europe. And I’ll never forget at Royal Albert Hall, which was the gig to go to, it completely sold out, I couldn’t believe I was getting to say those words “Ladies and gentleman, Royal Albert Hall, Lou’s Reed’s Berlin,” turned around, and there was this bounding he did onstage. That was such a hopeful, amazing moment.
As well as the same year, Metal Machine Music was talked about, and Billboard at the time said, “Best tracks: none,” and someone had transcribed it to a symphony orchestra, the four sides of sound, and it became a piece that traveled. And he was just, “Can you believe this? When I handed that record in they wanted to put me in jail.” And 20 years later, there it was. And it always happened that way. He never really got a break in that way. You would figure that after the Velvet Underground breaking all those years later, and Berlin, and Metal Machine Music, that it would be now you’ve got to take a second with this guy’s work, to take it in. But it didn’t happen that way. It was always very venomous when he would put out a new record. In particular, the Lulu record with Metallica. Now, this is true: we were reading about four or five venomous, mean-spirited reviews before one note was recorded. I could not believe that.
But really the best thing with Lou, the best thing, for all of us who had the chance, was listening to music with him. He was someone who would just cry, at the right note, all the time. Like tear up, get the goosebumps, and if he had them he’d show you. There was just nothing like it. It’s just so heavy that we’re here at the Apollo. We were here about a year and a half ago, doing a benefit for the Jazz Foundation, and went to the Apollo. He was a rock & roll animal but the music that truly blew him away was soul music and r&b, and he was right there going nuts over James Brown’s spot and everybody that came through this place. Lou’s relationship with black music was unique. A lot of artists like the blues and this and that, but that night Lou had this different thing. That night he did this thing with a full orchestra and Macy Gray doing the “Hey baby” part, and not only did he pull it off but a few months later at a civil rights concert, he did “A Change Is Gonna Come.” One time I asked him… In 1977, he put out this record Street Hassle and it had this song on it, “I Wanna Be Black.”
I want to be black
Have natural rhythm
Shoot 20 feet of jism, too
And fuck up Jews
I want to be black
I want to be a Panther
Have a girlfriend named Samantha
And have a stable of foxy whores
Oh, I want to be black
Me: “How did you?? I mean… that you know, Jesse Jackson wasn’t on it…”
Lou: “Are you kidding? Blacks loved it. Frankie Crocker was a guy who wanted to play it on WBLS and they wouldn’t let him.”
And then his hit single a number of years earlier, you know the chorus: “The colored girls go…” There was so much love. On that tour, he was wondering if he could still say that and on the first verse he kinda went (quietly) “And the colored girls go” and the second verse he started doing it and the balcony yelled “AND THE COLORED GIRLS GO!” So it was amazing.
We had this radio show on Sirius called New York Shuffle. We did about 80 of them, two hours each, where we played each other records. Lou was really interested in new stuff. He’d play things like Nicki Minaj records. And the biggest compliment one could get from him was “Hey, they’re really trying something.” That’s it. That’s what it took, that they’re really trying something. He just loved the show so much and we just loved doing it. One time we were having dinner with Peter Gabriel and Lou was gushing about the show. And Peter said, “That’s amazing, what are they paying your for this?” “We’re doing it for free.” He goes, “Haven’t you learned anything yet?”
Ornette Coleman’s “Lonely Woman” was what we opened with every week. He said this was his favorite record ever made. He said this was everything he tried to play on the guitar to get this style. He loved Ornette and Don Cherry. The other guy who he loved so much, who he was so protective of, was Jimmy Scott. He always said he has the voice of an angel, that he can break your heart. We always used to listen to this, and he’d take Jimmy on his records and he took him on the road.
But the height of Lou’s thing was his love of Dion and Doc Pomus. Dion he just adored, he’d say, “His singing soars so high, he’d reach the sky and dance there among the stars forever.” I saw them once together at St. Ann’s, by a church. Dion was doing a show there. In between, they had very strange bathrooms at St. Ann’s, it was along the side and Dion was impatient, having a hard time, so Lou dragged him outside and advised him to start pissing on the side of the church and then Lou took this stance like the bodyguard. One of the church representatives came out, looked at this, and turned into the Wolfman. Lou inflated to be like the Hulk. “You should be honored that Dion is pissing on this church!” It was a lovely moment.
The Friday night before Lou died, before Sunday, Jenni Muldaur and I went to stay with him one night. We didn’t talk much, we just lay there with him and he had me DJ. And as we were playing this song, [Dion covering Doc Pomus] he sat up and told us that “I am so susceptible to beauty right now” and just lay back down. Very few words were said. It was just a beautiful, beautiful night and I can still see the goosebumps on him. I loved him dearly and I can’t really ever say goodbye to him.
When I woke up this morning, there was a tweet from Lou, The Door. It made me want to say hello; I didn’t. And now I never will be able to again. When I was in college, in the mid-60’s I never missed a Velvet Underground show in NYC. If they did 4 shows in a week, I schlepped into Manhattan on the Long Island Rail Road 4 times. A Velvets show at the Dom, the Exploding Plastic Inevitable, always trumped schoolwork. Decades later, Seymour Stein brought Lou into my life again by signing him to Sire, where I worked. Almost no one believed Lou had it in him to make another great record. Seymour did– and so did Bill Bentley and Steven Baker, two of my colleagues at Warners. And then Lou recorded New York in 1989, one of his most commercially successful records ever. “Dirty Blvd” was enough of a hit to get us invited to the White House to perform at a State Banquet for President Clinton and Lou’s old friend, President Vaclav Havel of the Czech Republic. When I took over as president of Reprise, Lou decided to stay with me and transfer over. He was my favorite artist on the label.
Lou and I were both born in Brooklyn and both grew up within a few miles of each other in Nassau County, him in Freeport, me in Valley Stream and Roosevelt. His song “Heroin” had a gigantic impact on my life. Fortunately for me, I got over it relatively quickly.
Lou had a bad reputation as a mean, nasty guy. I never saw that side of him– and I hung out with him a lot, even after I retired from Warner Bros. He was always a sweet, loving, caring, empathetic person– as well as brilliant, interesting and unique. I cherish the times we spent together and thank God (and Seymour) for letting that happen for me. This morning I went for a walk with extra goodies for all the dogs in the neighborhood in honor of Lola, Lou’s rat terrier who lost her daddy today.
This morning two random things came to my mind that I can share. One had me sitting at a table at the White House with either Lugar or Hatch– I can’t remember which– while Lou sang “Dirty Blvd” and the senator danced in his seat. [Wait! I just checked the guest list… it was Lugar.] The other was going with Lou for a concert in Mexico City. He had never played there before and wondered if anyone would understand his lyrics. The place was sold out and going crazy and it seemed like every person could recite every single lyric to every single song. The next day we went to an art museum and I showed Lou a Francis Bacon painting. He was unfamiliar with Bacon but loved it. I told him I was sure I could talk Bacon into doing a painting for his next album cover. Lou was blown away. When I got back to my office a few days later, I found out Bacon had died the day Lou and I were looking at his work.
I don’t know how Lou died. I don’t know anything more than you do. I called his cell phone when Andy Paley told me he had heard Lou died. No one answered. Rolling Stone: Lou Reed, a massively influential songwriter and guitarist who helped shape nearly fifty years of rock music, died today. The cause of his death has not yet been released, but Reed underwent a liver transplant in May.
With the Velvet Underground in the late Sixties, Reed fused street-level urgency with elements of European avant-garde music, marrying beauty and noise, while bringing a whole new lyrical honesty to rock & roll poetry. As a restlessly inventive solo artist, from the Seventies into the 2010s, he was chameleonic, thorny and unpredictable, challenging his fans at every turn. Glam, punk and alternative rock are all unthinkable without his revelatory example. “One chord is fine,” he once said, alluding to his bare-bones guitar style. “Two chords are pushing it. Three chords and you’re into jazz.”
Lewis Allan “Lou” Reed was born in Brooklyn, in 1942. A fan of doo-wop and early rock & roll (he movingly inducted Dion into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1989), Reed also took formative inspiration during his studies at Syracuse University with the poet Delmore Schwartz. After college, he worked a staff songwriter for the novelty label Pickwick Records (where he had a minor hit in 1964 with a dance-song parody called “The Ostrich”). In the mid-Sixties, Reed befriended Welsh musician John Cale, a classically trained violist who had performed with groundbreaking minimalist composer La Monte Young. Reed and Cale formed a band called the Primitives, then changed their name to the Warlocks. After meeting guitarist Sterling Morrison and drummer Maureen Tucker, they became the Velvet Underground. With a stark sound and ominous look, the band caught the attention of Andy Warhol, who incorporated the Velvets into his Exploding Plastic Inevitable. “Andy would show his movies on us,” Reed said. “We wore black so you could see the movie. But we were all wearing black anyway.”
“Produced” by Warhol and met with total commercial indifference when it was released in early 1967, VU’s debut The Velvet Underground & Nico stands as a landmark on par with the Beatles’ Sgt. Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band and Bob Dylan’s Blonde On Blonde. Reed’s matter-of-fact descriptions of New York’s bohemian demimonde, rife with allusions to drugs and S&M, pushed beyond even the Rolling Stones’ darkest moments, while the heavy doses of distortion and noise for it’s own sake revolutionized rock guitar. The band’s three subsequent albums– 1968’s even more corrosive sounding White Light/White Heat, 1969’s fragile, folk-toned The Velvet Underground and 1970’s Loaded, which despite being recorded while he was leaving the group, contained two Reed-standards “Rock & Roll” and “Sweet Jane,” were similarly ignored. But they’d be embraced by future generations, cementing the Velvet Underground’s status as the most influential American rock band of all time.
After splitting with the Velvets in 1970, Reed traveled to England and, in characteristically paradoxical fashion, recorded a solo debut backed by members of the progressive-rock band Yes. But it was his next album, 1972’s Transformer, produced by Reed-disciple David Bowie, that pushed him beyond cult status into genuine rock stardom. “Walk On the Wild Side,” a loving yet unsentimental evocation of Warhol’s Factory scene, became a radio hit (despite its allusions to oral sex) and “Satellite of Love” was covered by U2 and others. Reed spent the Seventies defying expectations almost as a kind of sport. 1973’s Berlin was brutal literary bombast while 1974’s Sally Can’t Dance had soul horns and flashy guitar. In 1975 he released Metal Machine Music, a seething all-noise experiment his label RCA marketed as a avant-garde classic music, while 1978’s banter-heavy live album Take No Prisoners was a kind of comedy record in which Reed went on wild tangents and savaged rock critics by name (“Lou sure is adept at figuring out new ways to shit on people,” one of those critics, Robert Christgau, wrote at the time). Explaining his less-than-accommodating career trajectory, Reed told journalist Lester Bangs, “my bullshit it worth more than other people’s diamonds.”
Reed’s ambiguous sexual persona and excessive drug use throughout the Seventies was the stuff of underground rock myth. But in the Eighties, he began to mellow. He married Sylvia Morales and opened a window into his new married life on 1982’s excellent The Blue Mask, his best work since Transformer. His 1984 album New Sensations took a more commercial turn and 1989’s New York ended the decade with a set of funny, politically cutting songs that received universal critical praise. In 1991, he collaborated with Cale on Songs For Drella, a tribute to Warhol. Three years later, the Velvet Underground reunited for a series of successful European gigs.
Reed and Morales divorced in the early Nineties. Within a few years, Reed began a relationship with musician-performing artist Laurie Anderson. The two became an inseparable New York fixture, collaborating and performing live together, while also engaging in civic and environmental activism. They were married in 2008.
Reed continued to follow his own idiosyncratic artistic impulses throughout the ‘00s. The once-decadent rocker became an avid student of T-ai Chi, even bringing his instructor onstage during concerts in 2003. In 2005 he released a double-CD called The Raven, based on the work of Edgar Allen Poe. In 2007, he released an ambient album titled Hudson River Wind Meditations. Reed returned to mainstream rock with 2011’s Lulu, a collaboration with Metallica.
“All through this, I’ve always thought that if you thought of all of it as a book then you have the Great American Novel, every record as a chapter,” he told Rolling Stone in 1987. “They’re all in chronological order. You take the whole thing, stack it and listen to it in order, there’s my Great American Novel.”
It was October 2008 and we, Lou, Sarth Calhoun and I, sat on the stage of Redcat, part of the Disney Hall Concert Complex in Los Angels, and discussed sound. Lou loved to talk about sound; he was obsessed with it and a perfectionist. We only had two days of rehearsal and both shows were already sold out with extra late shows added, sold within 24 hours. It was the beginning of a new project, which later became known as Metal Machine Trio (MM3). For these first shows we didn’t even have a name, they had been announced in LA as “Unclassified: Lou Reed and Ulrich Krieger”.
Lou decided to bring Sarth along last minute; he met him at Tai-Chi practice, played with him at home and wanted his electronic sounds for this concert. Already earlier in New York Lou had told me that he was getting tired of writing songs, being more interested in doing instrumental and electronic music. He had shown me his electronic set-up and played me some electronic demos he worked on.
Now here we were—three musicians, who had never played together as a group, not even knowing in which stylistic direction this would go. The only thing we knew for certain was that we wouldn’t play songs or any compositions. These concerts would be freely improvised, and Lou wouldn’t sing. How would the audience and Lou’s fans react? Would they wait for their favorite Reed songs although the program had been announced as a “venture into deep acoustic space, drawing on new music, free jazz, avant-rock, noise and ambient”? Even later we still printed “No Songs” on the flyer advertising the following shows in New York, just to make sure.
These doubts were unnecessary; the concerts were a great success. Our intense walls of noise got standing ovations. We were so pleased with the outcome that we decided to release the shows on CD and continued to work as MM3. The next shows were in April 2009 in New York with John Zorn sitting in the second show for some fierce saxophone battles.
Strangely, the somewhat clumsy ‘unclassified’ sticker from LA describes well what MM3 was about: making music without stylistic boundaries. Our shows would sometimes be dark ambient, other times full frontal noise assaults, and another time freely played rock music with melodies and feedbacks — or all the above and more.
‘Unclassified’ also describes a side of the musician Lou Reed that is normally not discussed in the press. His music ranged wide from Perfect Day through collaborations with Ornette Coleman and John Zorn to the noise classic Metal Machine Music (MMM). He always was looking for new modes of expression, always ready to push boundaries. He never looked back, never settled for repetition of what had worked in the past. Finally having a group —this flexible, this free— was very satisfying for him.
Leading to MM3 were long discussions Lou and I had about MMM. MM3 never performed the piece itself. Although we recreated it with 4 guitars and amps as onstage sound installation opening during our tours, sometimes playing as long as 60 minutes before we came onstage to start the set.
As teenager MMM had summarized for me all the things I loved: modern orchestral music, free jazz, industrial music, heavy rock, and feedback. I heard it as a guitar orchestra version of ‘Xenakis-and-likes’ and fantasized about setting it for orchestra. It took me more than 20 years to make this dream a reality, by now having done performances of MMM with 5 different ensembles in various countries, continuously revising and refining my transcription and arrangement each time.
Later I came to understand that Lou took the rejection of it by fans and press alike very personal. This piece was a serious piece of love, love of sound and the guitar. Even more so came MM3 as a late artistic confirmation. He had been right all along. MMM had come home. Completely unexpected for him, a younger generation of musicians and audience now got it. In 2009’s Lollapalooza MM3 played a ten-minute noise interlude between well-known Reed songs to the frantic cheers of a large audience.
On following tours with his newly revised rock band, including Sarth and I, he would play MM3 recordings before and after shows. These concerts now included more noisy and free elements, embedded within a rock context. Every show was different, each night any of the songs we did were being done differently. One night a song lasted 4 minutes, the next night the same song became a 20-minute improvisation, depending on Lou’s artistic inspiration in the moment and happening band chemistry. When he had an idea, he would try to communicate it to his band onstage, even if it had never been rehearsed before. There was no safety net on stage for the band – or him. He pushed his musicians out of their comfort zone, but he also expected them to challenge him. He loved this exchange of energy on stage, making each concert unique.
Unclassified also applies to the person Lou Reed. The press paints the picture of him as the grumpy, aggressive rock icon, always in a bad mood. But this is what frustrated, rejected journalists write about a rock musician, who didn’t give them the feedback they wanted, who was unwilling to accommodate them and play their little games. As MM3 we did all interviews together. He hated stupid interviewers and empty questions. But he always fully engaged in knowledgeable questions about his music and politics.
The grumpy side was surely one side of his character, at the same time protecting him from fan and tabloid vampirism. To his friends he could be a gentle, sensitive, and very generous person. He could be funny and a friend to hang with, discussing a wide range of topics or just watching a movie in a hotel room.
Lou really cared about the things he did. There was no time for half-assed things in his life, no place for it-is-kind-of-ok, no place for stupidity. He took making music very serious. For him this meant to go into details how each instrument and the band should sound, how things are being done, and he expected the same from the musicians he worked with. He was always looking for personalities to work with—not just musicians, who can play their instruments. Music was something very personal to him and he needed a personal relationship to the musicians he played with. This goes as far as the tech crew. He always mentioned them after each show, sometimes announcing every one of them by name, acknowledging their contribution to the show. Band and crew were like a family, at least for the duration of a tour and there were fights as well as laughter.
I will miss him as a great and inspiring musical collaborator, someone to butt heads with and a caring friend.
I lost everything in 2008. I could not find a job and was able to survive for awhile by selling my possessions on a folding table covered with an Italian throw on Christopher St. A friend of mine who worked for Laurie told me they were looking for someone who could be trusted to care for Laurie and Lou’s beloved Lolabelle – would I be interested. I was afraid of dogs but I needed a job.I was starving and cold.
I went for an interview with Lou at W. 11th … Lola was not there. I remember walking thru the flat thru a hallway into the kitchen where Lou was sitting in this fantastic tall leather chair. His assistant introduced us and I put my hand out to shake his. He took it and when I went to pull it back he held onto it and did not let go. The entire interview. He asked if I was an artist…
Yes…I am a writer actor director. He asked who my favorite writer was. I have 2, Tennessee Williams and Delmore Schwartz. He fell back into his chair still holding my hand and a look of astonishment came over him. DELMORE SCHWARTZ????!!!!
My mother worked at Syracuse University and I used to hang out on campus selling pot and hangin’ out at Jabberwocky. I met many students and faculty who spoke of him and shared his work with me from yesteryear. Lou was gobsmacked. He asked me why I wanted the job and I told him my story. He asked me when I could start. Now.
He asked how I was dealing with losing everything…I responded, the kindness of strangers… That in many ways I am much happier than when I was wealthy. I am clear… He responded ..For like a gun is touch…. (Delmore). He then let go of my hand. I started the next day. I arrived and again Lola was not there.
I waited with the assistant…suddenly the door opened … Lola entered and waltzed over to Lou. She was regal. Stunning. As is Laurie, who upon entering W.11th at any given time, even if all hell had broken loose, everything was put on hold. Lou breathed her. Beauty personified. The Ms. Anderson affect. I was not afraid.
I spent many a night as Lola’s health sadly became increasingly worse. The conversations between 2 insomniacs in the presence of spirit dog is treasured. Lou googled me and came across my web site. I was taken aback that he took the time to view it. He had of course critique. He was fascinated with the story behind, LLORANDO FUEGO (the crying fire). I was gobsmacked.
In the end we find each other….
provisions of salve to assuage..
Lou was my Delmore…
the aching heart forges on into butterfly
the thunderbolt howling
of the 6 o’clock hour
the tyrannical poet dilating
your mind’s eye
into the swollenness
of your ventricle mouth
ego stripped, torched by tongue lust lash
left wasted on the theatre floor
thrust into air
jump on your bird self
off the power struggle into i
the religious chant
and wheel thyself
out of the cagedness
of dark soul slaughter
into heaven’s arms
that creep out of
into your it
before ash becomes you …
By Ingrid Sischy
The Apollo, December 16, 2013
“Sitting on a hard chair try to sit straight
Sitting on a hard chair this moment won’t wait
Listening to the speakers, they’re talking about you
Look at all the people, all the people you knew
….You would have made it easier, you’d say ‘tomorrow I’m smoke’.”
That’s Lou ‘s writing, from the early 1990s, from Magic and Loss; as always the words written down with no flowery stuff, no fancy footwork, no decorative touches, no metaphors, no showing off about his erudition, no bull shit, just cutting to the chase. So I owe it to Lou, and to Laurie, and to Lola Belle and Will, their beloved pooches, and to Lou’s mother, Toby, and his sister, Merrill, and to you, to cut to the chase, too.
Why oh why people ask, would Andy Warhol, “Mr. Interviewer,” have been this drawn to Lou, “Mr. I Hate Interviews,” and the rest of the band who made up the Velvet Underground-John Cale, Maureen Tucker, Stirling Morrison, and Neko. We know that Andy was always interested in the kids who had their fingers on the pulse. And Andy was a ticket to something. But this was more than mutual exploitation. You could say it was love. Some say it was the beauty of the Velvet Underground. Some say the music. I say the mind. Lou was the one whose use of language could match Andy’s ability to hit the target in art. Maybe the only one ever. The way Lou used words-in his work and in his life-there was never any fat, nothing to distract from the subject.
Lou always credited 2 teachers Delmore Schwartz and Andy who he likened to graduate school. But the truth is Lou’s umbilical chord must have been attached to a pen and an editing pencil when he was born and he probably would have written the way he did, no matter what. His writing is the equivalent to Andy’sSoup Cans, his paintings of Marilyn and Jackie, the Car Crashes, the Race Riots, and the Electric Chair-it was so direct, so visceral. It just nails it. We all need to think that there’s a reason we meet who we do, so Lou, who had no problem with generosity, always thanked Andy as an influence. “[Andy’s] way of looking at things was the flat out real thing, I mean a real alternative, that I never forgot it” he said.
Not only did Lou never forget it-he couldn’t he was born with it-but he never betrayed or double-crossed himself. Therefore he never let his true audience down-the one he had all those years and the audiences that aren’t born yet.
Lou’s life was constantly changing; he liked that and he liked good food–from the new world and the old. Nikki Russ Federman, whose family owns the fabled smoked salmon mecca, Russ and Daughters, on the lower East Side, told me that when she first met Lou at an event for Tibet House several years ago, he pursued her across the room to say, “Hi.” She couldn’t believe the legend gave a damn about her bagels and lox. He told her, “But YOU are New York royalty.” Lou a New Yorker, if ever there was one, was also a goner for soft leather jackets, neat cars, and spiffy new watches, but one thing that never changed was his vigilance against selling out. He was chemically incapable of it. Allergic to it. And also to those who somehow might want him to, expect him to, push him to.
Lou was, is, and always will be, concrete proof that there is still a way-despite all signs to the contrary-of being a real musician, a real artist, and a real human being. A few years ago he asked me to go with him to the Grammies, where he was to get an award, for a video, I think. Within minutes of us sitting down, he said, “We’re out of here.” He hated all the fakey poo yakking. The organizers panicked. They asked, “Is he mad?” “No,” I said. “Sane. Very.”
Let’s not forget that Lou Reed was the man who made Metal Machine Music.
He lived in the village most of his life, he loved to improvise, he had Ornette Coleman on his records, and he made LULU at the end of his life, a record which shocked just about everybody. He had more courage than just about anybody I know.
In 1973 when Lou made the record Berlin, Bob Ezrin produced it, it had this huge effect on me and I just thought someday I’d make a movie about that story. I didn’t realize that he didn’t go to Berlin and that it took place in New York. I was making a different movie but he said that Susan Feldman wanted to do this at St. Ann’s and he was ready to do it but I wasn’t ready to make this movie that he wanted to make. I was making another movie called The Diving Bell and the Butterfly. Lou felt like I knew that record as well as he did, so I took all the paintings in my studio and he came over and said “‘Hotel’s got greenish walls and a bathroom in the hall’ so these paintings are green and we can use these as the wall, and he called it the Berlin wall. So we hung the couch in my studio from the ceiling and Hal and Bob and all the original people, Steve Hunter played on it, it was wild to see Lou play with the whole story of Berlin for the first time in 35 years and to actually film that first moment where he looked at everybody and they did that together. And there was an encore at the end, there was one song that I wanted him to do that was a favorite of mine.
We had this special relationship, he loved my father and he [my father] loved Havel, and Laurie and Lou were going to play in front of Havel and Bill Clinton. So my father was from Czechoslovakia and he took my dad with him and my father wore a tuxedo that said Jack Schnabel – Czech Republic and I wasn’t there but Lou and Laurie took him there and he got to take his picture with Havel and Bill Clinton.
Anyway, there’s this song that he wrote called Rock Minuet and there’s one thing he did, he covered an area of language and experience that I don’t think anyone really touched. I want to read this song to you.
Paralyzed by hatred and a piss ugly soul
if he murdered his father, he thought he’d become whole
While listening at night to an old radio
where they danced to the rock minuet
In the gay bars in the back of the bar
he consummated hatred on a cold sawdust floor
While the jukebox played backbeats, he sniffed coke off a jar
while they danced to a rock minuet
School was a waste, he was meant for the street
but school was the only way, the army could be beat
The two whores sucked his nipples ’til he came on their feet
as they danced to the rock minuet
He dreamt that his father was sunk to his knees
his leather belt tied so tight that it was hard to breathe
And the studs from his jacket were as cold as a breeze
as he danced to a rock minuet
He pictured the bedroom where he heard the first cry
his mother on all fours, ah, with his father behind
And her yell hurt so much, he had wished he’d gone blind
and rocked to a rock minuet
In the back of the warehouse were a couple of guys
they had tied someone up and sewn up their eyes
And he got so excited he came on his thighs
when they danced to the rock minuet
On Avenue B, someone cruised him one night
he took him in an alley and then pulled a knife
And thought of his father, as he cut his windpipe
and finally danced to the rock minuet
In the curse of the alley, the thrill of the street
on the bitter cold docks where the outlaws all meet
In euphoria drug in euphoria heat
you could dance to the rock minuet
In the thrill of the needle and anonymous sex
you could dance to the rock minuet
So when you dance hard, slow dancing
when you dance hard, slow dancing
When you dance hard, slow dancing
when you dance to the rock minuet
I didn’t know Lou Reed personally. As a journalist, I was a little scared of him, because he was known to eat my tribe for lunch. I met him a couple of times as a friend of Laurie’s. The first time, at BAM, Laurie introduced me to her new boyfriend, hilariously saying “This is Lou…” because what else are you going to say, right? Nevertheless, Lou was a culture hero who had a big, specific impact on my life.
It may be weird, corny, obvious to say, but Lou’s music meant a lot to me as a gay kid. When Transformer appeared in 1972, I was a college freshman in a world with virtually zero mainstream representation of gay life. This was way before Boy George and Tom Robinson and Bob Mould and Rufus Wainwright and Matt Alber, before Patti Smith and Melissa Etheridge, before we knew that Pete Townsend was gay. Precocious literary-minded teenaged fags like me found their way to Allen Ginsberg, Jean Genet, and William Burroughs, and Bette Midler’s The Divine Miss M spoke to the tradition of campy fun in a contemporary way. But Lou’s songs with the Velvets and later used the beloved idiom of rock and roll to convey an impossibly sophisticated world of frank adult sexuality and gender fluidity that included danger, humor, and melancholy in surprising and tender ways that nothing else in my life prepared me for. You can’t imagine how profound and delirious it was to play an LP and hear, “We’re coming out/Out of the closet/Out on the streets/Yeah, we’re coming out!” This butch guy talking about drugs and drag queens, sex and self-hatred without distancing himself opened up worlds of possibility for me, and for that I will forever be grateful.
One Sunday morning Laurie, Lou, and I took a cab to the Whitney to see the Biennial, accompanied by a young French publicist named Phillipe who was visiting from Paris. When we arrived, though, there was a line halfway around the block.
Lines like these are insurmountable for celebrities. Even if they wanted to stand in them–as they sometimes do–they can’t: they draw too much potentially unpredictable attention. Understanding this, Phillipe ran into the Museum and returned shortly afterwards with four passes.
“How did you do that?” Laurie asked incredulously.
“I told them there was a famous film director here who wanted to see the show,” he lied delightfully.
“I know I couldn’t do that,” Lou deadpanned as we passed through.
The show itself was so awful that we were ready to leave in twenty minutes. After a century of gestation, the anti-art wing of the art world has now reached critical mass, and the museums literally hang garbage on the walls.
“The curators don’t really need artists anymore,” I remarked. “They could just as easily produce this trash themselves.”
We had lunch in a nearby cafe, and talked over plans for the rest of the day. Laurie wanted to go to Canal Street to work; both Lou and I were thinking of going home for a nap.
“You should go take a nap together,” Laurie advised in a surprisingly maternal way as we got back to the street to look for cabs. “You could both lie down on the roof.”
“Yeah”, Lou said. He stared at his feet in a shy, beguiling way, and then looked up. “We could go to my place, and I could show you the Buddha I just got. It’s four hundred years old.”
I stood there dumbstruck. Lou had just passed his seventieth birthday, and I was sixty-three. Was I going home to see his new Buddha and then take a nap with him? Wasn’t that something that toddlers did?
ABOUT MY BROTHER LOU
Name: I’ve had a lot of names. Bunny Reed. Merrill Reed. Merrill Weiner. But today I am here as Bunny, my brother Lou’s baby sister.
Broken hearted. I am broken hearted. Are you? Who thought Lou could leave us, could die? Who could picture no more of those phone calls…”Hello, Bunny? It’s Lou..” Asking me how do you wash jeans. Asking me what suntan lotion to use for a dog’s stomach. Obsessing endlessly over the right kind of mattress to get for our mother (the Lou Reed version – the most expensive one ever made.) Recovering from a liver transplant, he’d perseverate over where to get the best cheese croissant like the one he gets in New York and then literally drive you to distraction Why doesn’t Cleveland have stores that sell sugar-free Yogurt? How could that person leave us? He was so profoundly alive..
No matter how far back I try to recall, I always adored my older brother. Maybe I imprinted on him, like a duckling on the big duck. As a child I would wait at the window to watch him walking home from school. Being with him made me so happy. That devotion never changed.
You probably all knew Lou as an adult. The tough, intimidating, eat journalists for lunch guy in the leather jacket and shades, the epitome of cool. So let me remind you of the time that Lou was forced to babysit for me when I was about 7. At bed time, there’s a gigantic spider in my room, an epic spider. I call for him to kill it, I cry, I beg. But no, Lou wouldn’t do it. “I’m not going in there – that sucker’s too big!”
At Syracuse Lou was definitely cooler. He started a band, he had his own radio show. He reportedly libeled some student on his radio show; the kid’s family tried to sue my father. And there were other extracurricular possibly illegal activities of which the university didn’t approve. I believe they tried to kick him out. But he was a genius; what could they do? He stayed and he graduated.
So fast forward 40 years. Syracuse begs, he says yes, and the university honors him with a lavish fundraising dinner establishing a scholarship in his and Delmore Schwartz’s names. Timothy’s documentary about him is played; Bono speaks about him. Heady stuff. As Lou was accepting the award and speaking, he suddenly stopped. He looked directly at me and said, “Can you fucking believe this?”
It was a long trip to that full circle moment. I remember seeing Lou and the Velvet Underground at La Cave, a local club in Cleveland when I was at college. Picture maybe 20 people in the audience. Picture not a lot of them liking it. But Lou was Lou. He couldn’t have cared less.
Maybe to protect me – or him – he instructed me to never ever tell anyone I was related to him. So I took to telling anyone who asked “what was it like growing up with Lou?” that we had kept Lou in the basement throughout his childhood and fed him black bread through a hole in the floor. This seemed to satisfy him. Then there were those people who just didn’t get who Lou Reed was. They’d naively ask me, “Has Lou brought home a Jewish girl to introduce to your parents.” I said, “We’re just glad if he doesn’t bring home a goat.”
When Lou left the Velvet Underground he came home to live with us in Freeport – his typing phase. Once he had signed with a record company, they started shooting the cover. I still remember the first one because it hung on my parent’s wall for many years. It was a beautiful picture of Lou on a dune at the beach sitting next to our dog Seymoure. Well, the picture didn’t get used, but it was a warm and wonderful shot. Beaches and dogs – Lou’s favorite combination forever.
You know the rest. Lou never ever compromised. Even if he was wrong. Even if comprising might make his life infinitely easier. And as he was reminding you why you were wrong, he had that look in his eye, that twitch of his mouth that let you know a clever retort was coming. I remember when he spoke to the audience during a break in the filming of the “Berlin” performance. He recalled how the studio executives were aghast when he had submitted the album to him – couldn’t he give the album a happier ending? Lou answered, “I told them, what do you think – did Hamlet end happy?” Or when I asked him where he was, late as always, as he attempted to drive out to Long Island to visit with his assistant Elyse at the wheel. “I think we’ve just crossed over the border to Croatia.”
Even when he was so ill, the sense of humor survived. There were hard times. He was suicidal, his friends told me. You have to speak to him. I called him, really said “what are you doing? Are you going to hurt yourself?” “Oh Bunny, come on! I can’t hurt myself with the Tai Chi swords. They are too dull.”
But he was scared – who wouldn’t be? During that last hard year he worried aloud to me, “I don’t want to be erased.” His friends stayed by his side – thanks to you all.
I love my brother. He is in my heart. I know he is in your hearts also. I take comfort in knowing that with his beautiful and talented wife Laurie, he found the love of his life. She brought him as much contentment and happiness as Lou Reed could possibly have. So in a way, he was fortunate. He died with the person he loved most in the world at the place he loved most in the world. And I know that Lou and my family are all grateful to Laurie, whose vision created this magnificent celebration of his life and a time for us all to come together and heal. I thank her from the bottom of my heart.
During October and November, my beloved brother died and then our mother, Toby, ten days later. I made the decision to tell my mother about Lou, even though she was completely non-responsive. I told her about the accolades, the world’s reaction to Lou’s death. Out of her stupor, she sat up straight, opened her eyes wide, said a sentence of gibberish with great emotion, and fell back against the sofa. As I left, she squeezed my shoulder, a final hug, something I hadn’t experienced in years. Toby knew – and she left to join him. How perfect. She went to join her adored son whom she yearned for and regretted letting down. It was meant to be. I am happy for her that she has let go and that she is at peace.
But I miss having my brother. Throughout my life I could never get enough of Lou – I always wanted more. Didn’t you? One more conversation, one more sardonic comment. One more Lou Reed look. One more Lou Reed phone call. I will feel that way for the rest of my life. He will not be erased. Yes, Lou, I really do fucking believe it.
El Maleh Rachamim – God overflowing with compassion –
(traditional Jewish memorial prayer)
God over flowing with compassion, who dwells beyond us
Grant perfect rest to Lou Reed – Leib ben Sidney and Toby
who has moved on to the next level of existence
Together with all the luminous one who shine in the radiant upper spheres of holiness –
May his eternal rest be in Paradise
Source of compassion shelter Lou in Your infinite presence
Bind his soul in infinite
May Lou find ultimate peace in divine cosmic infinity
Let us say : Amen
My name is Scott Richman and Lou was my friend and my tai chi brother and teacher.
Lou the artist was fearless and unflinching, whether is was music, poetry, photography – a great storyteller – who provoked you to take the journey with him – no matter where it went, you were with him always, sadness and happiness – the dark and the light…the yin and yang.
Lou’s journey into the martial arts and tai chi, goes as far back as his youth, where he and his devoted little sister “bunny” would spend afternoons on Long Island watching Kung Fu movies.
Lou’s study of tai chi started in the early 80s, and like many of his deep interests, Lou worked harder and studied harder than anyone and became accomplished at several styles of tai chi.
Like Delmore Schwartz and Andy Warhol – in 2002 Lou met one of his greatest collaborators, friends and teachers – grand master Ren Guangyi. As Lou would say – everything he studied up until meeting Ren, paled in comparison – “Ren is the real deal, no joke”.
Master Ren’s story is one of legend, studying 10 years in the isolated Chen village of northern China near the Mongolian border, sleeping outside the school, his parents sent him to study tai chi to deal with his “aggressive nature” in his teens. He became a world champion fighter, and teacher of the political leaders and government in china.
Master Ren came to the united stated with his wife in 1991, where his first job was that of a Chinese restaurant delivery boy – that lasted 45 days – when a co-worker recognized master Ren from a martial arts magazine. His students entered him into competitions and he competed in the us, losing in the beginning because he didn’t understand English and the word “start” – but he quickly picked it up and went on to win many competitions, started his own school in NY, and he was and is the only non-family member of the Chen family to become a grand master of Chen style tai chi.
Master Ren and Lou’s finding each other was destined – and Ren took Lou to the next level in his studies, and with great love and devotion to his #1 student, Ren helped Lou become a tai chi master.
This represented a breakthrough for Lou where his body became his greatest instrument, and where the pain, joy and power that you hear in his songs or read on the page, was now expressed in the person that stood before us. Tai chi helped Lou gain a greater understanding of his physiology, of muscles, tendons, bones and movement, of balance and “energy” or chi – he tapped into the well spring that was always there and he would be generous and share this feeling with his friends, fans, and his tai chi family.
Lou studied 2 -3 hours a day, 7 days a week with master Ren up until the last year or so. Lou was thrilled to bring Ren and tai chi with him around the world to over 55 countries, whether it was the Sydney Opera House, the Olympics in Italy, Carnegie Hall — Lou was a master and he became Chen tai chi’s greatest ambassador. Lou wrote beautiful, original music that was inspired by his love for tai chi.
Such was the devotion of his relationship with Grand Master Ren – that Master Ren designed a new tai chi form specifically for Lou Reed – the 21 form. Earlier – you saw a demonstration of the 21 form – the form created for urban living – where anyone can do it because it was designed to be practiced in a small space and like Lou’s songs – it could be done beautifully slow or explosively fast with great “fajin” power and electricity.
Lou wanted to share the 21 form with more people and he called me earlier this fall and said “Hey Scotty, it’s Lou – I am here with MR and we were thinking – – lets call the 21 form– the blackjack form – right – 21 – blackjack – more people will be interested if it has a cool name” – “I love it – let’s do it – we can do that sure,” I said – but we never did get around to it
It was and remains the 21 – and with good reason – it has great significance – 21 years ago that Laurie and Lou met, 21 movements of the form, the form we did in his last days in his pool in long island, 21 – the final thing Lou did before he passed on the last Sunday morning in October. Master Lou and Laurie — this is for you – with much love, loyalty and respect. Your tai chi family
Follow Your Heart and Your Art:
You loved coffee ice cream,anchovies and hot and sour soup
You loved muscle,the definition of power and strength of the body
You loved fighting, combat, the sweet science and the gift of gab
You loved wertheimer white wine spritzers, apple strudel and diet coke
You loved to sleep anywhere anytime
Your heart was as big as the sky
You loved the ocean, the waves and swimming with the stars
You loved your dogs, playing with them and handling them with rough love
You loved lavender, the sweet pungent smell of french perfume and woodsy leather
You loved Nathan’s grilled hot dogs and thin crust pizza (only the cheese and sauce of course)
You loved the white space, saw beauty in the emptiness and found positive in the negative
Your eyes were as bright as the sun
Talk is cheap, what matters is emotion in action
Push it to edge, follow your heart and be true to your art
What can I do?
Don’t make me figure it out for you.
As a young boy in the 60’s growing up in the New Jersey suburbs I was, I suppose appropriately so, shielded from anything but AM music and thus unaware of anything cool or hip outside of the Beatles, Rolling Stones, or for that matter Fiddler on the Roof and Barbara Streisand. Every teenager (Lou’s age at the time) in my neighborhood either was drafted and off to Vietnam or dodged it and became a hippie. I couldn’t have known of the Velvet Underground and what it would mean to me later in life.
Fast forward 5 years, early 70’s- realizing my scrawny body was not going to make it in sports, I took up guitar in order to try to attract girls. I learned Beatles, Rolling Stones, Grateful Dead, Jethro Tull (but not Fiddler nor Streisand) but began hearing of Lou Reed. My baby brother Scott at this time was infatuated with Jim Morrison and the Doors and aside from Pro Wrestling, spent all his time reading his poetry and listening to their music. This fascination with the literate side of rock n roll was different than mine, which concentrated on guitar technique and song structure.
In 1979 while in college I first heard “Rock n Roll Animal”. I was late to the party but blown away by the raw energy. I gave my brother the album and gone were the Doors. Lou replaced Jim and anything Lou did (or for that matter anybody who came after i.e. Modern Lovers, Iggy, Television) became for my brother the center of his attention. Now Scott was turning me on to more of Lou’s music and the Velvets. By the early 80’s I discovered in Lou’s songs the eternal connection to the collective feelings of love and the detached observations of a whole other world than mine. The connection was that of an older brother I never had or cousin telling these stories. I realized something very special in that close connection. That plus the fact that his guitar playing and understanding of its role in balls to the wall Rock n Roll always held my attention and desire to imitate.
Over the next 2 decades my brother, cousins, and friends would catch Lou’s performances in the NYC area any chance we could. Watching the joy of his performances and the ever-growing song catalogue always left me filled with extra energy. Never a throwaway tune. Rock as an art form was his domain.
When Scott told me he met Lou and thought he could help him in the fledgling digital media world I was quite happy that this would be a mutually satisfying friendship. Scott introduced me to Lou and Master Ren backstage after a Carnegie Hall show for “The Raven”. I started Tai Chi classes soon thereafter and this changed my life. I now physically understood the pathways of energy I had learned while studying Acupuncture. As a pain management physician this revolutionized my practice and I soon found myself recommending Master Ren to everybody. Lou was continually amazed at the benefits of Tai Chi and was always available to help those of us learning new positions within the forms. He had a remarkable depth of understanding of the fighting applications as well. That generosity of spirit spilled over also to his world of rock stardom as he would invite his Tai Chi brethren to performances. I will always cherish the memories when Scott and I would travel with his band on tour in Europe. I had an inside view of all the work that went into a performance and could appreciate the less than glamorous side of a rock tour. Lou’s professionalism and perfectionism were a manifestation of the deep care he felt for his fans. At one show on the “Berlin” tour, after Scott and I did form 21 with Lou backstage for a pre show warmup, Lou asked me what I thought was the reason for all the preparation, set design, London Girls choir, etc. Why would these people travel the continent with Lou……..the answer was simple……Rock n Roll. As I then sat on stage and listened to Lou sing “Caroline Says” the pain, angst, regrets, of past romances, break ups, etc came flooding from that suppressed place in the subconscious that I thought could only be expressed by literary giants such as Shakespeare or Dostoyevsky. The critics didn’t get it. Berlin, as Lou said, was a metaphor for Division…. and he tapped into that place we all try to forget. That is the transformative power of Lou Reed’s rock n roll and it will live forever.
Respectfully and with love,
At Ground Level: Lou Reed
by Clifford Ross
Lou came into my life, not on a pedestal, but at ground level. He was a New York icon, but I met him in a very relaxed way in the early 90’s, when he was with Laurie Anderson, an old friend. For a guy who was famous for being grouchy, he sure was sweet.
He saw it all. A hug from Lou always came with an extra, emphatic squeeze that somehow conveyed, “I get you. (And I love you anyway.)” Lou was the one who gave his friends a perfect day. Forgive the transposition, but he made me forget myself, and think I was someone else, someone good.
Lou was a magician, the proof not just in the songs, but also in the way people experienced life around him. Sometimes I felt like I was in a special, synchronous orbit with him, way above where I was supposed to be living. A slice of pizza at midnight after dinner in the West Village. Watching the sky as the millennium passed by us on a rooftop in Marrakech.
About 15 years ago, I had been working for six months on a series of photographs that were so abstract they hardly existed. The most positive response I got was from a couple of visitors who said they didn’t understand them. I had begun to think maybe they shouldn’t exist at all. Lou came to the studio, looked around at the work, didn’t offer an opinion, and asked if they meant anything to me. He was stone cold. He finally said, “If you think it’s meaningful, eventually someone else will too. Fuck everyone else until that day comes.” The next day he dropped off a CD—it was Metal Machine Music. He told me to listen to it—if I could stand it—and that it almost destroyed his career. A truly unique form of encouragement. Hilarious when you think about it. And it worked.
I finished the “Grain” series – and it was the body of work that the critic Arthur Danto told me was “my singularity” – the extreme that would define the rest of my work. And he wrote about it. I wish he had mentioned Lou.
For me, Lou’s “fuck-everyone-else” attitude defined the path to making real art. More importantly, people came to realize that his tough, “fuck-everyone-else” attitude was a pedestal for the truth.
Lou lived and worked at ground level while teaching many of us how to orbit. He didn’t need a pedestal. He built one for us.
~ RETURN TO LOVE ~
When the final door opens,
we are greeted by the brightest Light…
on the grandest stage.
When the last door shuts,
we have no desire to look back…
no regrets; no claim to do it all over again.
There is no final curtain, no bowing out, and no last calls,
only a continuum of standing ovations and encores;
in the cycles of form and formlessness.
Our artistry ever performing in minds and hearts
of the remaining casts.
Our scent, ever remains… our voice, ever heard…
our ruddy old clothes, cherished.
Thus the transformation looms into place.
and the answer to the question we`ve asked all our lives
The symphony of baby`s cries, white noise, a guitars soft refrain and rain,
birdsong and whispering rivers,
harmonize where we walked on the wild side
in accord with soul, sound, and perfect days,
exists only from where we listen.
Now, the ultimate truth is revealed in full color,
the colors of the Life we clung to so desperately…
where we had loved, and had been loved.
our forbearers applaud our reunion backstage.
Where again, we once again…
Return to Love.
© Sänzi – February 18, 2014
Inspired and written in fond remembrance of rock icon, Lou Reed (March 2, 1942 – October 27, 2013) – Rock on Lou.
Akiro & I met in the East Village
We loved this beautiful 150 year old tree.
Then I met Laurie & then Lou.
When I heard he’d passed away, this powerful tree quickly came to mind:
I decided to send this picture
to Laurie w a dedication to Lou
2 weeks later I visited my treasured tree.. as I often would:
Only to discover that somehow it had caught fire.
Moving up into the universe, following Lou…
The first time I met Lou I was terrified.
It was when I was a bus boy at the Lion’s Head Restaurant on Sheridan Square in NYC in the early 90’s. I was working the brunch shift that fateful day when one of the waiters called in sick and presto, I was instantly promoted and flung into the circus of hung over diners.
Initially I was excited to move up the ladder, but my joy was short lived: my first ever customer would be Lou Reed.
I will never forget it. That hair, those eyes, and I believe a white blazer with rather accentuated shoulder pads (not a look he had for long).
After sheepishly approaching his table I timidly requested his order to which he emphatically stated that in no uncertain terms he would have “French Toast with NO BUTTER”.
It was a serious New York moment (especially since in Canada one would never dream of eating French Toast without butter!) and the experience was immediately tatooed onto my memory.
We later became great friends and admirers of each other’s work and I, as well as countless others, owe him so so much in terms of forming real and true artistic sensibilities.
Musically there’s never been someone quite like Lou, unless one were to delve into tribal folk traditions of so called “primitive” societies. Plus, relating to this idea, I suppose one has to add in the fact that New York City itself in the latter part of the last century was one of the most gloriously primitive places on earth. Lou captured this spirit with the added value that New York at that same time was also the most sophisticated place on earth.
His conflicting use of steady rhythm countered with utter freedom in his singing style (and he COULD sing) plus his masterful texts desperately searched for stately beauty whilst at the same time utterly destroying it. In laymen’s terms, musically he had killer timing. The end result was a new art for a new age, in fact one could argue even that it was more then art, it was a sign, a sign that to this day is a beacon for all seekers. We all wish we’d been there.
I guess this all is part of a tradition, linking a figure with a city and an age: musically Berlin’s golden age was Weill’s, Paris’ was Piaf’s, and New York belonged to the Velvet Underground.
Within all this mumbo jumbo I must quickly add that on a human level Lou was incredibly kind and honorable, despite many misconceptions, and that he was a true gentleman who struggled to be a good person amidst very tumultuous circumstances. He was in fact a lovely guy, a Mench.
He basically taught the world how to NOT compromise.” NO BUTTER!” Such a loss but at the same time, such gain.
Still, that very first memory I will cherish since although it was a rather short and simple statement, here we go again: “French Toast with NO BUTTER!”, it could have been a soliloquy from Hamlet or a Puccinni Aria: I had just met fucking Lou Reed!
And I wake up in the calm”–Lou Reed
hang onto your emotions the day Lou dies because you will need them in the hanging-on-time, attachment-time, severance, global-stressed-time time within dreamtime when consociates go down pass on turn out the light and a rock n’ roll reckoning occurs and a generation bows down to let poetry soar and others sing others do it others know it others build it others pick up the golden thread oh
hang onto your emotions the day Lou dies because he will not be making that sound again, live person, poem at dawn, person, now move his hands skillfully into blazing light outside dictate of historical events, slip of sense perceptions. let them go break into a million pieces set the twilight reeling fly into the sun separation from the body and hearing acutely in all our bardos, listen: candlelight and Dubonnet on ice
hang on to your emotions the day Lou dies convert yourself word to substance music to memory’s tongue with memory’s back of neck placed with memory’s tension, a larynx in runic spiral-time keeps wits intact as you witness a change of guard venus in furs shift in frequency of candle burning om fearless mantra Tara om fearless vajra hum a circle of sounds protect you when ego cries attach! attach!
hang on to your emotions the day Lou dies indentured servant to millennial time sword of Damocles over the head heart on sleeve we do do do do do New York we do do do do do New York make deities dance lokapalas jump and revive saints march in without piety down and dirty do do do do the city do New York keeping mastery of space in gracious ear wanting the magic to sweep us away sweep us away
I first met Lou in Copenhagen. We were checking into the same hotel on separate tours.
I had really wanted Lou on my Duets album and there he was standing in the lobby. I gave him my last copy of my demo of Stardust with Aaron Neville.
Lou phoned later and told me to give him a call to set up a session when I got off tour. Soon after we recorded One for My Baby (and One More for the Road) for my album, Lou invited me to record on his New York album.
This was the start of a couple of decades of recording, touring and playing together over a 26 year span.
On tour he always seemed to bring out my dry, droll and often dumb humor for which he said he would ‘fine’ me, after each bad joke. I feel as if a lot of my funnier moments had been on the road with Lou. I’m not sure he felt the same.
In Athens, Greece during the song Beginning of a Great Adventure I improvised a bass solo but for some reason I went into The Rolling Stones’ Satisfaction, wanting to be clever, I guess. The european audience of over 3,000 people enthusiastically picked up on this and to my horror started singing along and wouldn’t stop. I couldn’t get out of Satisfaction. Lou was glaring at me – I’d never seen him look so angry. Finally we were able to end the song because Lou just stopped playing. After the show he asked me “What were you thinking?” Luckily it was my birthday and April 1st so I quickly said “April Fools?” After a brief tense pause he laughed and we were good again.
Just a few years ago, before the release of Lulu, he asked me to play his Fender Jazz bass on tour. I hadn’t played a bass guitar since I had used one with Van Morrison once decades earlier. I was way out of my comfort zone.
You had to stay on your toes with Lou. Playing with him was an honor and an almost indescribable learning experience. Now that he is gone, I could feel like so much was left unsaid but I know it was all there in the music and in the love he had for his band — that helps.
One late night after Lou had passed my wife remarked how big his spirit felt – that all the qualites I had spoken of and she had witnessed through my work with him had taken on a more universal essence. She called him valorous and loyal, as a partner this meant a lot to her. If you served the music, a higher purpose and you pushed yourself to be better he would be there supporting you, no matter what.
I am so happy that Lou found his beautiful soulmate Laurie. Grateful too, knowing that in Laurie and all the wonderful music and art – his and their heart still glow.
The weeks around Lou’s transition we noticed several occurrences that seemed to add up to more than coincidence. The Diwali, Hindu Festival of Lights, Mount Etna erupted, fireballs sighted flying across the skies of Los Angeles – and a remarkable deepening in our hearts.
I can’t imagine playing without him – not gearing up for another european tour, the rehearsals, new basses, new sounds . . . I’ll keep working at it Lou.
I met Lou for the first time in 1998 in New York. I was working for Bob Wilson at the time as his personal assistant. Lou and Bob had done a theater piece at the Thalia Theater together called Time Rocker, which was based on H.G. Wells’ Time Machine. It was a shocking and at the same time elegant piece. They were planning to do a new piece together and Lou was supposed to come by Wilson’s loft on Vestry Street around 10AM to talk about the next project based on Edgar Allan Poe. As usual I had just managed to convince Wilson to get out of bed and into the shower. A process that usually involved many bananas, diet coke, tea, the New York Times and CNN on at full volume in the background. The procedure in his shower that had wall-sprayings by John Chamberlain in it, took usually the same amount of time. Lou was as usual totally on time and the doorbell rang at a minute to 10AM and I was terrified. I had heard so much about how difficult he is, how mean, how condescending and unfortunately this first visit proved it all right. I had just opened the door, he was still standing in the neon-lit industrial hallway that always smelt of old oil and he was already saying “maybe you make a herbal tea”. I mumbled something about the fact that we did not have any (Wilson only drank black tea and he was a person that was adamant about his habits) but I would try, left the door open and disappeared in the kitchen. I came out again and then he asked me for a cigarette. I was relieved, I had just started smoking and finally here it would come in handy. I was one of these people who thought they would have to be a man about their smoking habits and therefore I smoked Winston or Marlboro Reds, definitely no lights. Lou, the prince of darkness with the spike in his vein, asked me for herbal tea and Marlboro Lights? Has the world ended? Is the Savior near?
Fast forward to Los Angeles about 3 years ago. Lou and I had become good friends since I moved to New York. My husband and sister in law know him well, we know a lot of the same people.
Wilson was doing another project with him at the Berliner Ensemble: Wedekind’s Lulu. He wants Lou to write the music, it totally makes sense. His health was not good and he was a holy terror with the theater, they refused talking to him and I was the only one who could speak to him. The rehearsals had already started and things got increasingly difficult. We needed him to release more music material. I called him, there were palm trees in front of my eyes, the eternally blue sky of Los Angeles, people jogging on the pavement and I had Lou Reed on the other side of the phone. He probably wore a black outfit and looked gorgeous. His screen test by Andy Warhol is probably one of the most beautiful images of male vulnerability and self-assuredness that exists out there.
He was laughing on the phone when I told him how everyone at the theater is terrified of him and he said to me: “They do know that I am just a little puppy dog, don’t they?” And he really was, he was one of the sweetest, most loyal, kindest little dogs out there. The whole world loved his music, the whole world is richer because of him.