I loved Lou Reed more than you

I saw the Velvets 350 times. No one influenced my art and poetry more. A special tribute from his biggest fan

Topics: Music, lou reed, Velvet Underground, Satire, R.I.P,

I loved Lou Reed more than youLou Reed (Credit: AP/Herbert Knosowski)

I was in my basement polishing the acetate of my producer’s cut of “Metal Machine Music” when I heard that Lou Reed had died. The news came to me, as such news often does, from a German magazine editor. He called me on the special phone that I keep aside for foreign publications that want me to write about the American music scene.

“Lou Reed ist tot,” he said.

“I’m sorry,” I said. “I don’t speak German.”

“Lou Reed is dead.”

“Oh Lou,” I said. “Oh God. Oh no.”

I took about 15 minutes to weep silently, mostly for myself, but also on behalf of all cultured people everywhere. Lou Reed’s music was too beautiful for this world, though rarely too beautiful for NPR. Now his music, and the feelings it swelled in the breasts of the educated, was no more.

The phone rang again, and again, and again. Crying time had ended for me, at least temporarily. I’d write many obituaries that mournful Sunday. Hard work is its own reward. That’s what Lou would have said. It’s what Lou would have wanted.

* * *

Not to be a jerk about it, but Lou Reed meant more to me than he did to you. No single human being, not even Jean-Luc Godard or David Foster Wallace, has influenced my own life and art more. As a young critic for Rolling Stone, I saw the Velvet Underground play 350 times, sometimes hiding in air ducts so I could watch them during rehearsals. When I wasn’t seeing them live, I was listening to their albums, taking notes with permanent marker, always sober, occasionally touching myself gently and rhythmically. The music left an imprint on my soul that the destructive sands of history cannot erase.

When the Velvets inevitably, tragically, dissipated, I became the foremost chronicler of Lou Reed’s solo career. I interviewed him on 27 separate occasions, about half with his consent, and attempted to interview him at least 100 more times. Our relationship was electric and explosive and sometimes enervating.

One day about two decades ago, when the world was still inexpensive and young and dying of AIDS, I saw Lou and Laurie Anderson walking through the East Village holding hands, as avant-garde performers in love are wont to do. Fortunately, I had my notebook handy, since I was working on my own (still unpublished) epic tone poem about Lower Manhattan.

“Hey, Lou!” I shouted.

He turned. A look of what some people would call horror but I’d call joy filled his face.

“It’s me!” I said.

“Oh God,” he said.

“Do you have time to talk right now?”



Lou turned to Laurie.

“Run,” he said. “Save yourself.”

I chased Lou through Tompkins Square Park. We dodged the needles and the people living in boxes. I saw Iggy Pop sitting on a bench, passing him because I knew Iggy would always be there if I needed him, tomorrow and the next day. Lou, on the other hand, was elusive quarry. He tended to emerge only in the evenings, spending time in restaurants surrounded by people who didn’t appreciate him as much as I did.

But on that day, I was overweight. And he was faster than I was.

“Leave me alone, you goddamn freak!” Lou Reed shouted to me. “Haven’t you sucked my marrow enough?”

Those were special lyrics, just for me. Even Lou’s insults sounded like poetry. It was such a perfect day. I was glad I’d spent it with him.

* * *

I have photograph of Lou Reed that I gaze at some nights, late, while listening to a special edition of “Transformer” that was released mostly for the Japanese market. It’s of a young Lou, circa 1973, before he turned into the wizened suburban toad of late middle age. In my special photo, he stands at his window in the East Village shirtless — but still in sunglasses — nonchalantly smoking a joint. I squatted in an alley for 16 hours so I could get that shot. And it’s mine. I use it for artistic inspiration. I use it to emote. I use it all the time.

Now that most of my deadlines have passed, I weep afresh for the world’s loss. How could I not? The fabric of reality has been torn asunder. Because when you think of what Lou Reed meant to American culture, the meaning is really meaningful. He was our champion of the avant-garde, our greatest junkie bard, the ultimate maestro of the obtuse, and he looked good in leather for pretty much his entire life. Lou felt everything that true music fans feel, and he expressed that feeling times a thousand, on multiple instruments. He sang for all of us, especially for those of us who never took singing lessons. And if you’ve ever lived in New York — which I have, alone, in the same three-bedroom basement apartment since 1964, when I was 17 years old — he spoke of the city like no one else ever could, with authenticity, meaning, grit. His New York always had a needle in its arm and poetry in its soul.

Lou Reed is dead. Even if someone were to invent time travel tomorrow and journey to 1977 to bring him to the present, it would still be over, because the temporal paradox would cause reality to collapse in on itself. I know and understand that. But regardless, I’ll always struggle with the final words he said to me, back in 2003:

“Get that tape recorder out of my face, you stinking leech.”

Oh, Lou. Sweet sweet Lou. New York may have cleaned up its boulevards a dozen years ago. But they’ll always be dirty for you!

Neal Pollack is the author of the literary satire "The Neal Pollack Anthology of American Literature," among other works of fiction and nonfiction. His latest book, "Open Your Heart: A Matt Bolster Yoga Mystery," will be released in paperback on November 14.

More Related Stories

Featured Slide Shows

  • Share on Twitter
  • Share on Facebook
  • 1 of 11
  • Close
  • Fullscreen
  • Thumbnails
    Burger King Japan

    2014's fast food atrocities

    Burger King's black cheeseburger: Made with squid ink and bamboo charcoal, arguably a symbol of meat's destructive effect on the planet. Only available in Japan.

    Elite Daily/Twitter

    2014's fast food atrocities

    McDonald's Black Burger: Because the laws of competition say that once Burger King introduces a black cheeseburger, it's only a matter of time before McDonald's follows suit. You still don't have to eat it.

    Domino's

    2014's fast food atrocities

    Domino's Specialty Chicken: It's like regular pizza, except instead of a crust, there's fried chicken. The company's marketing officer calls it "one of the most creative, innovative menu items we have ever had” -- brain power put to good use.

    Arby's/Facebook

    2014's fast food atrocities

    Arby's Meat Mountain: The viral off-menu product containing eight different types of meat that, on second read, was probably engineered by Arby's all along. Horrific, regardless.

    KFC

    2014's fast food atrocities

    KFC'S ZINGER DOUBLE DOWN KING: A sandwich made by adding a burger patty to the infamous chicken-instead-of-buns creation can only be described using all caps. NO BUN ALL MEAT. Only available in South Korea.

    Taco Bell

    2014's fast food atrocities

    Taco Bell's Waffle Taco: It took two years for Taco Bell to develop this waffle folded in the shape of a taco, the stand-out star of its new breakfast menu.

    Michele Parente/Twitter

    2014's fast food atrocities

    Krispy Kreme Triple Cheeseburger: Only attendees at the San Diego County Fair were given the opportunity to taste the official version of this donut-hamburger-heart attack combo. The rest of America has reasonable odds of not dropping dead tomorrow.

    Taco Bell

    2014's fast food atrocities

    Taco Bell's Quesarito: A burrito wrapped in a quesadilla inside an enigma. Quarantined to one store in Oklahoma City.

    Pizzagamechangers.com

    2014's fast food atrocities

    Boston Pizza's Pizza Cake: The people's choice winner of a Canadian pizza chain's contest whose real aim, we'd imagine, is to prove that there's no such thing as "too far." Currently in development.

    7-Eleven

    2014's fast food atrocities

    7-Eleven's Doritos Loaded: "For something decadent and artificial by design," wrote one impassioned reviewer, "it only tasted of the latter."

  • Recent Slide Shows

Comments

Loading Comments...