The news hit the feeds on Sunday: Lou Reed was dead. The news was surprising but not necessarily shocking. Recent pictures showed Reed a bit frail at best. He had a liver transplant not too long ago and apparently died from liver complications. He was a unique talent who wrote unique songs. His career began before the Velvet Underground with a band called The Primitives. They had a minor hit in 1964 called The Ostrich featuring Reed on guitar and vocals. He also co-wrote the song. It’s available on YouTube.
Lou Reed’s music fit into little pockets of my life. I had DeeJay’d at a punk bar in Chicago called LaMere Vipere in 1977. The bar had gone punk from a gay disco. The first song ever played in the new format was the live version of Sweet Jane from the Rock And Roll Animal album. The second was Television’s Marquee Moon. I arrived in New York City for the first time a few years before that. I had taken the Broadway Express and walked out of Pennsylvania Station to a hot summer day in August. It was 95 degrees as I headed south to the Village. The smell of the city rose upward with the steam from the broken sidewalks. My first thought was that I understood the music of Lou Reed much better all of a sudden.
I met Jackie Curtis at one point and we hung out for a while. I have a 90 minute tape of one of our conversations somewhere in a box in my basement. I asked Jackie about the reference to her in Walk On The Wild Side (“Jackie is just speeding away….). She said she first heard the song when passing a record store that was playing it over street speakers. She said she stopped, listened, and then she cried. Jackie signed a matchbook from Max’s Kansas City for me.
I’ve seen Reed perform live four times, probably more than any artist. The show that comes immediately to mind was on Thanksgiving night in 1975 at the Academy of Music. It was billed as an evening with Lou Reed. Was it ever! I think it was probably the longest show in history, or at least it seemed that way to me. I was still excited at the end of the first hour. By the time the third hour ended I wondered if the show would ever end. My memory, hazy as it is, is that the show went on for another hour or more after that. A review of one of his shows in the Chicago Reader said that Lou Reed had taken laid back and turned it into face down on the floor. I knew just what they meant.
I have a lot of Reed’s music in my collection. I think my favorite album is probably Berlin. Rolling Stone reviewed it twice in two successive issues, calling it the best album since Sgt. Pepper and then the biggest piece of trash to ever been released. One of my bands covered the title track in several live performances. Others in my favorites category are Rock and Roll Heart, The Bells, Sally Can’t Dance, and Coney Island Baby. His later stuff is good as well though I did not care much for The Raven or his collaboration with Metallica (Lulu). My friends and I have argued about that. But that was the music of Lou Reed. It either grabbed you or it didn’t, and when it did, well, it really did.
Other little tidbits I remember include the first Velvet Underground “reunion” in 1972 when Reed, John Cale, and Nico performed in Paris. The CD was released in 2004. I have a tape of the performance from before the official release that included a hotel room rehearsal. I don’t if Reed and Cale knew they were being taped but they said some very mean things about Nico along the way. Speaking of mean things, John Cale would recount in one of his biographies that Reed would shoot a little too much heroin while riding around in limousines in New York. I get the impression that Reed was lucky to be alive after some of his “experiences.” There is also Victor Bockris’s unauthorized biography, Transformer. The irony was that even though Reed cooperated with Bockris even though he portrayed Reed as a relatively unsympathetic character. Such is Lou Reed.
We’ll miss you Lou though your music will live forever. There is nothing quite like it. Some of your music is not possible to cover since it’s so uniquely you. In your own words, oh babe I’m going to miss you know that you’re gone, one sweet day. I’ll end this with a video clip of one of the most unlikely and unnecessary covers of Perfect Day, one featuring Lou Reed with full orchestra in a duet with Luciano Pavarotti. It truly is an OMG moment.