I woke up this morning all prepared to watch football, read the Sunday paper, and relax. Then I got a phone call from my friend telling me that Lou Reed had died. He was 71, and had a liver transplant recently, so perhaps I shouldn’t have been as shocked as I was.
Most people probably only know Reed from his one hit “Walk on the Wild Side.”
Rock fans that know their stuff, are a lot more familiar with his large body of work. The Rock and Roll Hall of Famer was very influential, with his ‘60s band Velvet Underground. They got their start with Andy Warhol and his Factory, creating an avant-garde type of music that at times didn’t work. Other times, it was pure beauty. A blend of poetry and rock.
I was hit-and-miss on VU stuff. Especially when they had German model Nico front them. She had a voice that didn’t work for me. I preferred Reed’s solo material, as well as classically trained violinist John Cale (not to be confused with the recently deceased J.J. Cale).
The first Reed solo album had him being backed by the band Yes. It would be a few years later with his album Transformer in 1972, that yieled the hit “Walk on the Wild Side.” The record was produced by David Bowie. That record also had the song “Satellite of Love,” which U2 fans will know from their cover of it. Perhaps the best Reed cover, is the Cowboy Junkies doing a ballady version of “Sweet Jane.”
As a movie critic, I always love hearing Reed songs in movies. A great documentary that came out this year called “20 Feet From Stardom” starts off with “Walk on the Wild Side.” The perfect song for a story about background singers.
In the dark The Squid and the Whale, the movie ends with Jesse Eisenberg seeing this piece in a museum, while the song “Street Hustle” plays. It’s a perfect ending. Oh, and there’s “Perfect Day” used so well in Trainspotting, when the guy ODs on heroin (you’d think the filmmakers would’ve used the Reed song “Heroin” but Beautiful Day works so much better).
I told the story about meeting John Cale outside a concert, and having him come over to sign an album for me. I was blown away by how great he was during the show, and for him to come over and sign for the handful of fans was great.
When I met Lou Reed outside a venue in San Diego, his manager had been talking about how bummed he was the place was only half sold. It had a capacity of 1,200, yet only 600 tickets had sold. There was a crowd of about 75 people pushing and shoving for his autograph as he walked off the tour bus. Reed quietly said, “I have to get inside, but I can sign a few.”
I had three albums, and he signed two of them. Only 10 other people got signatures before his manager dragged him inside.
Luckily, a few weeks before that, I had gone to Tower Records on the Sunset Strip. Reed had released a 2-CD “best of” and was signing. It was worth the two hour drive to meet a legend, when Tower announced that “For each CD you purchase, he’ll sign two additional items for you.”
While waiting in the line of about 100 fans, there was an even bigger line of fans across the street at Book Soup. They were waiting to meet Kiss bassist Gene Simmons. He was signing a coffee table book (and signs said he’d only sign that book, no other memorabilia). They’d occasionally yell stuff at us like “What a bunch of f***ots, waiting to meet Lou Reed.”
Always funny when a guy covered in face makeup is calling you a f**. I eventually couldn’t take it, and had my friend hold my place in line. As one guy was yelling slurs like that I approached him (it helps that I’m 6’1”). I said, “You know what? You sound like an idiot yelling all this stuff across the street. Everyone has different taste in music. I have a few Kiss albums. I like Detroit Rock City, Cold Gin, and a lot of Kiss songs.” With that, the guy said “Alright! Well, you aren’t like the rest of the weirdoes over there.”
I said, “Uh…Gene Simmons must be a weirdo, too. Not sure if you realize, Kiss recorded an album with Lou Reed. And Reed, as a songwriter, blows away every member of Kiss, and any other heavy metal band you’re probably a fan of.”
As I walked back across the street he called me an a**hole. Oh well.
Back in line, a few people got excited because singer Shifty Shellshock (Seth Binzer) of the band Crazy Town (their hit was “Butterfly”) had come in to buy a few CDs.
I entertained the thought of buying a Crazy Town CD to have him sign, but just wasn’t a big enough fan.
My friend brought a guitar for Reed to sign. I was sure they wouldn’t let him bring it in, but they did. He was signing a few guitars, and it caused me to get one of the worst autographs ever.
Reed had a bunch of different color Sharpies in front of him, and the guy in front of me had a white guitar. Since Reed was using a white paint pen most often (as his CD was all black), he was asked to use the black Sharpie. He signed the guys guitar, and I handed him the CD. Yet in my idiotic brain, I thought it would be rude to say, yet again, “Can you switch pens?” So, he signed my black, double-CD of his, in black Sharpie. You can’t see the autograph unless you hold it up a certain way in the light. At least the black Sharpie worked for the two albums I handed him.
I usually have a few questions I ask my musical idols, but Reed has always been a bit on the quiet side, so I said nothing.
I was glad I got a chance to meet him, and while thinking about adding my story here of that time, I wrote this little song as a tribute to him:
LOU HAS GONE TO THE OTHER SIDE
Louie came from Brooklyn, NY.
Doo-woop first, then the Factory
Tucker, Warhol, and John Cale
Nico came, a beauty was she….
Now we say, “Hey man…Lou has gone to the other side.”
I said, “Hey honey, Lou has gone to the other side.”
Bowie joined him out in Long Island
They made Transformer, and radio came a callin’
But he never had another hit
I don’t think he really gave a s***
We all said, “Hey man…listen to his song Heroin.”
Said, “Hey babe…he’s now with Laurie Anderson.”
And now the angels go, “Doo do doo do doo do do doo…”
Nico and Sterling went away
Doesn’t matter how hard you pray
Street Hustle here, and play it there
New York City’s the place where…
They played, and hey man…Lou has gone to the other side.
Like the other Morrison, broke thru to the other side.
The Rock & Roll animal hit the Berlin streets
No longer with Bowie creating the beats…
Went to play Madison Square
Bowie turned 50, reconciled there…
They sang, “Sweet Jane…
And they played all night.
It was a Perfect Day, under the White Lights…
But now we find Lou Reed, has gone into the white lights.
But we have his music still, that’ll make it alright.
And the angels sing,
“Doo do doo do doo do do doo….