Sunday, October 27, 2013

Lou Reed

This past June I posted the good news that Lou Reed had undergone what appeared to be a successful liver transplant. Today the news turned bad; he died at 71.

Lou was a terrific guitarist, but it was his vocal performances that for me are most memorable. Delivered in, as Ben Ratliff's New York Times obituary puts it, "his Brooklyn-Queens drawl", lacking any soaring dynamics, they could be sardonic, scathing, or sweet. Sometimes they were mixtures of all three almost at once. "Coney Island Baby," the song he does in the video clip above, emphasizes the sweetness, but without being mawkish.

I saw him in live performance once, at the State Theater in Detroit during the 1980s. I was there for a meeting with several friends and colleagues from New York. One of them was a nun living in the secular world who ran a consulting business to fund her charitable ventures, which included serving Thanksgiving dinner to hundreds of homeless people on the streets of Harlem. She enjoyed the concert very much, although she found "Sex with Your Parents" a bit perplexing

In January of 1987 Lou and his former Velvet Underground bandmate John Cale appeared together in concert in my neighborhood. They performed the complete contents of their album Songs for Drella, made as a memorial to their artistic patron and friend Andy Warhol. I somehow missed this; fortunately, my Brooklyn Heights Blog colleague "Homer Fink" was there, and today published this recollection of the event, as well as his appreciation of Lou.