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I never met Lou Reed, though I saw him play a few times, once with his band at Radio City, once with John Cale and Sterling Morrison (!) in an impromptu reunion at a Cale show at a small space downtown, around the time of Songs for Drella. And he and Laurie Anderson were all over the city on warm summer nights and cool autumn days. I remember them in Grange Hall, one night. I remember, another time, walking by a couple deep in thoughtful conversation in an alcove in Soho, and abruptly realizing it was them. Years ago, Cecilia and I heard him read poetry on New Years Day at St Marks Church on the Lower East Side, which has a very cool 24-hour poetry reading that happens every year. The city is diminished by his absence.
That said, I know two stories about Lou Reed. They didn’t happen to me, but they both happened to people I know. Here they are:
Many years ago, my great friend Phil was a booker on the Dr. Ruth Show, and as such, was tasked with the job of finding people of public stature willing to come on cable television and discuss sex with a very short, very smart, very grandmotherly older woman. Not the easiest charge, but he was remarkably skilled at it.
One afternoon Phil is flipping through the racks at a not particularly upscale men’s clothing store, long gone now, on the Upper West Side. And he hears a voice, and looks up, and there is Lou Reed, two racks away, shopping. And usually Phil is fearless, but this is Lou Reed, the man who outhipped Andy Warhol, the man who made the world safe for transvestites, the man whose sexuality had been a thriving public theater of carnality even as it managed never to eclipse the music he made. And Phil wanted to talk to him. Phil wanted to say something memorable and of import. So he walked up to him, and then, confounded by the reality that whatever he said about the man’s foundational cultural achievements would be the same thing every other fanboy had ever said, my friend Phil said this:
“Mr. Reed—would you like to be on the Dr. Ruth Show?”
And Lou Reed looked at him, and curled his lip, and said, in his dry, guttural voice:
“Not in a dream.”
That’s one story. The other is this:
My great friend Rick is waiting for a down elevator on the third floor of a tall office tower in midtown. And it arrives and dings, and he gets on without looking, and it shoots up to the upper stratosphere of that particular chunk of real estate, way up high where the expensive law offices are. And the elevator opens, and in walks Lou Reed, with a little lawyer guy in a suit. And the door closes, and Lou is obviously furious and wounded and, even silent, barely able to contain the volume of emotion he’s feeling. And the entire ride down, my friend is extremely aware that something is not right with Lou Reed, that something is, in fact, seriously and terribly wrong. And finally the elevator slows as it approaches the lobby, and Lou Reed turns to the lawyer person, and says:
“Does that mean she can take my house?”