I first heard Lou Reed on the radio when I was 16, and the song was appropriately “Rock And Roll,” from The Velvet’s Loaded album. It as on Scott Muni’s afternoon show that started at 4P.M. I would get home from Brooklyn Tech and turn on the 1950’s vintage radio I’d begged my parents to buy for $25 from a neighbor. That was a princely sum in those days, but it was a fine radio with the best bass you could ever hope to listen to.
Of course, at the time, I didn’t know that he’d already left the Velvet Underground or that this was the final album, but I went to Korvette’s department store in Union Square the next day and bought a copy of Loaded. I think Lou would have been pleased at the New Yorkness of it.
I saw him for the fist time three years later at Alice Tully Hall, it was the Trasformer tour and there were no colored girls singing “Do, do-do, do-do…” just the boys in the band doing a falsetto interpretation. By this time I was at Pratt and had bought every Velvet Underground album I could lay my hands on, and I was totally smitten.
One day I spray Painted Give me Librium or give me Meth, something Lou had said in Interview magazine on a wall in the main building at Pratt. I also did White Light, White Heat on another wall, they were both up for years, the only time I ever spray painted graffiti.
Lou Reed stirred up something inside of me that no other rock star ever could, he spoke to a lot of things I felt and thought but could not express. He was smart, literate, dark, and funny; things that were also inside of me.
When Transformer came out, there were big posters all over the subway system like this:
One day I took a mat knife with me to my local subway stop, paid the 25 cents to get in, and after carefully scoring around the edges of the poster, I peeled it off and rolled it up and took it home. That poster was a prominent feature of anyplace I lived for the next few years. I went to see him at the Bottom Line, then at the Palladium, the Rock And Roll Animal tour.
The Stooges came to New York in 1975 to play Max’s Kansas City, and I went to see them. I was listening to the Stooges before I’d even heard of Lou Reed, but not by much.
There was an after party at Max’s that I crashed, and everybody was there. David Bowie, Alice Cooper, Todd Rundgren, all of the New York Dolls, and Lou Reed, of course.
I remember following Iggy and Johnny Thunders into the bathroom and watched them snort something in one of the stalls. They wouldn’t give me any. Then I took a piss next to Iggy, who by this time he was wearing a silver lamé miniskirt and nothing else. He looked at me as he was pissing and said, “I’m so fucked up.” It takes balls to go to the bathroom in Max’s barefoot. Or you have to be really fucked up.
At some point that night, I spotted my idol, Lou, sitting alone at one of those little round tables that seat two, a glass of liquor in front of him. I went over and sat in the empty seat opposite him.
“I’m a really big fan of yours, Mr. Reed,” I started.
He looked startled, he glanced around wildly looking for something, or someone, and then he made a come here gesture and the next thing I knew there was a hand on my shoulder, it was a big black man with a Caribbean accent who looked down at me and said, “Mr. Reed doesn’t want to be disturbed.”
Though hurt, that didn’t stop me from loving him, I went to see him a few more times after that, including a benefit concert for the said bouncer in 2000. He was ill and had no money for medical bills. Lou had organized the benefit and performed, alone (he sang Sweet Jane) and with Garland Jeffries.
I saw Lou one last time a couple of years ago at the Highline, he played one song and then came out for an all-star jam with Pete Seeger’s kid, of all people.
Lou Reed at the Highline Ballroom. That’s the actor Tim Robbins to his right.
I’m really sad he’s gone, he gave me something no one else has given me, a sort of acknowledgement that I wasn’t sick and crazy for thinking the things I think or doing some of the stuff I did, that after all; it was all right.