Lou Reed, Laurie Anderson and John Zorn at the Stone, NYC (Photo credit: wallyg)
On Sunday Oct. 27 we were driving home from a relaxing weekend camping and soaking at remote Benton Hot Springs in the Great Basin Desert on the far eastern edge of California when I read the news on Facebook that Lou Reed had died. We switched the radio to KCRW and listened to Gary Calamar’s tribute, then we listened to Henry Rollins who had changed his line up and went from a canned show to a live one when he heard the news Sunday morning. On Monday, KCRW did another tribute on Morning Becomes Eclectic and the tributes have continued all week including this tribute to Lou Reed from his yoga teacher and this one from Lou Reed’s wife musician Laurie Anderson where she writes:
Lou was a tai chi master and spent his last days here being happy and dazzled by the beauty and power and softness of nature. He died on Sunday morning looking at the trees and doing the famous 21 form of tai chi with just his musician hands moving through the air.
Lou was a prince and a fighter and I know his songs of the pain and beauty in the world will fill many people with the incredible joy he felt for life. Long live the beauty that comes down and through and onto all of us.
And finally, here’s a tribute by Ron Wells, a semi-regular contributor to this blog:
Lewis Allan “Lou” Reed (March 2, 1942- October 27, 2013)
How many of us understood exactly what was meant in “Rock and Roll” when Lou Reed sang:
“Jenny said when she was five years old
There was nothin’ happenin’ at all
Everytime she puts on the radio
There was nothin’ goin’ down at all,
Not at all
Then one fine morning’ she puts on a New York station
You know, she don’t believe what she heard at all
She started shakin’ to that fine fine music
You know her life was saved by rock ‘n’ roll”
And Lou Reed was near the forefront, at the heart, of that rock and roll that had us shakin’.
Having said that, I came to Lou Reed late. After the Velvet Underground, but before he did “New York.” Patti Smith had introduced “Pale Blue Eyes” as a song “Lou Reed wrote for Hank Williams” and I realized how stunningly beautiful and brilliant the song was. “Walk on the Wild Side” was of course on the radio, and didn’t everybody want to sing along with “the colored girls,” who go, “‘Doo do doo do doo do do doo.’”
But then I started digging and came up with all these remarkable songs of reality, anger, and truth: “Heroin,” “I’m Waiting for the Man,” “White Light White Heat,” “All Tomorrow’s Parties,” and was knocked out. And, right alongside these were, “Jesus” and “Sunday Morning,” soft and pure and filled with longing.
And much later when Cowboy Junkies sang “Sweet Jane,” it was, in Lou’s words, “The best and most authentic version I have ever heard.” By then I was hooked forever.
I saw him do the entire “New York” album, long before other bands were playing their entire albums from start to finish. That concert was as intense a rock and roll show as I had ever seen.
Years later when he appeared at the Los Angeles Times Book Festival, he was under a small, outdoor tent and did a short reading. When he opened the program up for questions, people in the audience were slow in raising their hands. Maybe it was the black leather jacket and black jeans he wore. The dark shades. The beaten up, black high-top tennis shoes. The New York attitude. The enormity of the legend which he carried with him. Who knows. But he was open and honest, just like his songs. And afterwards he signed anything–books of poetry, records or CD’s–for people who stood in a line that stretched on and on.
Now, his words are haunting: “Sometimes you make me happy, Sometimes you make me sad.” I listen to his rock and roll songs which make me happy, and know that Lou Reed is gone, and the sadness lingers like notes which have vanished from a song.
“My God is rock ‘n’ roll. It’s an obscure power that can change your life. The most important part of my religion is to play guitar.”
“There’s a bit of magic in everything, and some loss to even things out.”
“You can’t beat 2 guitars, bass and drums.”
“One chord is fine. Two chords are pushing it. Three chords and you’re into jazz.”
“You’re a musician: You play. That’s what you do.”
He was a musician. He played. May he do so forever. Rest in Peace, Lou Reed.