I wanted to ride the new subway the day it opened. I wanted to ride on that noon Q train that would leave from 96th street heading south for the first time. I also don’t want to pay rent for the rest of my life. Some things just never seem to work out.
But I knew I’d get around to it sometime. After all, I grew up hearing about the Second Avenue subway, and when I lived on East Houston Street and Clinton in the 80s I would dream about a Second Avenue subway, so I could go uptown without first heading further west if I need to get to somewhere on the Upper East Side. And now it is here, albeit not all the way to Houston Street.
In the week leading up to the opening, there were dozens of spots on the local news about it, most of them featuring our intrepid Governor, Cuomo. Every time I saw him promising that the line would open on schedule I thought of the poor working bastards that were on the receiving end of the Governor’s whip. Andrew don’t take no shit, as Mayor Bill has discovered much to his dismay.
I was amused when I heard that he’d been invited (and attended) the special New Year’s Eve party the Governor threw at the new stations. There was a special train (the one featured on the news with the nifty new SUBWAY logo) that went back and forth between 96th and 72nd Streets. And more, all for a specially invited 500 people who were involved in getting the project done. I’m sure none of the sand hogs were invited.
On watching one of the videos, I sat up straighter on the couch when I saw that on the wall of one of the stations, they didn’t indicate which one, there was a huge photograph of Lou Reed’s face that had been transferred to tiles and affixed to the wall. I recognized the photo, one taken not long before he died three years ago.
In the photo where Lou seriously stares straight at the camera you can see his age, the face worn and creased and wizened. The tile portrait is from a Chuck Close painting done from a photograph. I’d seen the painting before.
Now I had to go. I had to make the pilgrimage to see Lou.
I first heard Rock and Roll by the Velvet Underground when I was 15, on WNEW FM radio. The next day I went to Korvette’s in Union Square and bought my first Velvet Underground album. I would eventually buy all of them, and most Lou Reed solo records. I was smitten, not just by the Velvet underground, but by Lou Reed. He was the person I most wanted to be like in the world when I was a teenager.
I saw him for the first time at Alice Tully Hall in 1973. I went by myself, not having a girlfriend at the time. That was the Transformer tour, and when the album was released RCA records actually promoted it. One of the promotional tools was a huge poster:
The poster was plastered at subway stations all over the city. There were a couple of them at the Clinton-Washington G train station near Pratt, where I was studying at the time. One night I went down to the station with a mat knife in hand, and managed to free most of one of the posters from the wall. That poster was taped to the wall of every bedroom I had until I lost track of it somehow. Life back then was pretty fuzzy so I forget what happened to the poster.
Later in the year, in July to be exact, I came face to face with Lou one night at a party for the Stooges at Max’s Kansas City. They say never meet your heroes, you might be disappointed, and disappointed I was when he refused to talk to me. But I never stopped loving Lou or his music.
I saw him many times after that, the last time I think in 2009 when he was part of a tribute to the “Freedom Riders” put together by Hal Wilner at the Highline ballroom. He did two songs I did not recognize but it was wonderful to see him up on stage doing what he does best. Tim Robbins the actor and Pete Seeger’s grandson Tao also performed. I am lucky to have seen so many iconic performances.
So after going through all of that I had to go and see this tribute to Lou Reed, for to be made part of a subway wall is certainly a special tribute.
There were other tile portraits, including a huge baby face, but I have no idea who they are. I only know Lou, and that was all that mattered to me, and the trip was worth it.
I caught the Q train at 34th Street heading north and was amazed that when the train entered the new tunnel you could actually see the concrete walls. I guess all subway tunnel walls are bare concrete, and as such are pale grey in color, but the new ones aren’t covered with 80 plus years of grime and steel dust.
I didn’t know where the Lou Reed piece was, so I took the train to 96th Street and went up to look. I was determined to find it, and was going to visit each station till I found it and took a picture of it.
96th was a bust, the walls were all blue with these white arrowhead things all over the place like snowflakes. I snapped a couple of pictures and went downstairs to take the next downtown train to 86th Street.
86th Street has special cache for me because I worked on 86th Street for many years and my ex-wife used to work at the 92nd Street Y when our son was small so I spent a lot of time on 86th Street. I got off the train and got on the up escalator. Just as my eyes cleared the deck of the upper level there he was, my man Lou Reed permanently pasted to a concrete wall on a New York City subway station. My heart filled with joy, I’d made it.
One of the thoughts that came to me was the line “words of a prophet written on a subway wall” from Simon and Garfunkel’s Sounds of silence. Now, not just the words, but the man himself. You can’t get any more New York than Lou Reed, and I think he’s getting a kick out of it in Rock and Roll heaven.