Perfect Sound Forever


Under the Wheels of a Car on Canal Street:
A 24 Year Diary-Tour of Gotham Featuring Encounters and Assorted Non-Run-In's
by Jason Gross, Part II

OCTOBER 2004- Carnegie Mellon website/interview

For the Robotics Institute 25th Anniversary series of events, CM did an interview with Laurie Anderson, which produced my all-time favorite Reed quote.

Q: Do you try to make things simpler as you go along? Both in your work, and in general?

LA: I do try to make things simpler, and more to the point. Lou is very encouraging to me in this. If I'm hiding behind a simile, he'll say "Why don't you just say what you mean, instead of alluding to things all the time?" And sometimes he's really right.

You can see the rest of the interview at the CM website

And needless to say, Reed had a lot of noteworthy things to say, more of which you can see at the Brainy Quote website.

APRIL 2007- PSF article

Thom Robinson: "The Best of the Rest: Notes on Neglected Lou Reed Recordings"
"Sure, the slaughter of sacred cows is healthy and good, but sometimes it goes too far. Take the case of Lou Reed. Maybe I spend too much time reading the mainstream press, but it seems scarcely anyone takes the man seriously these days. In recent years, I've seen him play unconditionally remarkable shows, bold and brave performances of unlimited compassion and commitment. But the largely negative live reviews that follow invariably leave me wondering whether the writers are insane or I am. Meanwhile, the argument in Lou's defense becomes increasingly reduced to a dim voice from the sidelines ("Aw people, come on! The Raven was good! Honestly! It had Steve Buscemi! Who doesn't like Steve Buscemi?!")."

JULY 2007 - Hudson River Wind Meditations

Even fans might not remember that one of Reed's last albums was actually an ambient record and a good one at that. Hudson River Wind Meditations came out on the spiritual label Sounds Good and Reed himself was dead serious about doing the record, as he noted in a press release about it: "I first composed this music for myself as an adjunct to meditation, t'ai chi, bodywork, and as music to play in the background of life—to replace the everyday cacophony with new and ordered sounds of an unpredictable nature. I hope you find as much use for this music as I have in both writing and listening to it and exploring inner spaces."

I also admired the album because Reed's 2nd crack at machine music was so different than his first try at it, not to mention all the other work that he'd done otherwise. I had to admire a guy like that who's not afraid to stretch himself, to keep experimenting and actually do it successfully (meaning that you'd actually wanna listen to the music).

At the time, I had this to say about the record:

"Where MMM was a statement of many stripes, HRWM comes across as almost a small gift or communique. Instead of ear-piercing noise, Reed uses lulling gentle tones that resemble Brian Eno's Discreet Music. On "Move Your Heart," he starts out with a gentle synthesizer loop and later layers that with a slightly louder, more dominant one for a half-hour. Also around 30 minutes, "Find Your Note" (how's that for a spiritual direction?), has a low sounding buzz layered over with a high frequency tone that modulates slightly along with shorter spacey synth patterns - less relaxing and more for concentrated meditation and kind of like a low-key version of La Monte Young's tone generations. He finishes off with a shorter, low-key white noise piece and then a coda of "Find Your Note.""

You can see the rest of the review on my blog here.

SEPTEMBER 2007 - Zeitkratzer Metal Machine Music

A classical ensemble (Zeitkratzer) recorded a March 2002 version of Metal Machine Music with Reed's blessing and participation for a live show in Berlin. Asphodel Records (a label that usually put out dark ambient music) released the album five years later (thoughtfully sending me a copy), also including liner notes by Reed, which had a few gems as you'd guess:

"(MMM was) pure guitar driven sound in which to surround and intoxicate yourself. I made it out of love for guitar driven feedback and the squall of the metal machine... I thought of it as energy music and a continuation of my work with the Velvet Underground... I had a line I thought was really good in the (original) liner notes. 'My week beats your year.' A try at a Warholian soundbyte. All the specs were a lie. But not everyone saw the humor and I was told I would never record another record again... I tried to do more of this in my album The Raven, in a piece called 'Fire Music,' a reaction to 9/11 but that is another story."
For what it's worth, this 2002 version of MMM adds some useful context to the original. Just as seeing classical ensemble Alarm Will Sound faithfully recreate the Beatles' "Revolution #9" live (and unplugged), seeing this other difficult rock-identified piece done in a modern classical context made a lot more sense. The group reproduces the noise pretty faithfully but the setting and presentation of the stacato waves of sound seem much more suited to the avant-classical tradition than the rock-y terrain that Reed was associated with otherwise. The accompanying live DVD also adds some weight to the piece as you see most of the band (which includes tuba and accordian) on an elevated platform with a pianist and percussionist each madly banging away in front.

Here, Reed appears near the end of the 50-minute version. On the DVD portion, you can watch as he calmly strides to the middle of the stage and sits down, picks up his guitar and adjusts the levels. The roaring ensemble behind him suddenly becomes silent and with a theatrical wave of his arm, he unleashes a bit of mayhem himself. Watching him immerse himself in the piece, bending tortured notes while stomping on his various foot pedals, you can see that he really did mean this to be a connection to his work with the Velvets (you hear bits of "European Son," "Sister Ray" and "Heard Her Call My Name" buried in there) and not just a fart in the face of his old record label (that idea is also born out in the accompanying video interview where he describes the birth of MMM and his own creative process, with a nice dollop of humor). After his solo is finished, he waves the ensemble to come in again and accompany him for another minute before waving them off to end the piece. His screeching guitar overload is thrilling and you can understand the applause that you hear afterwards. You also realize that rock/classical guitar-composers like Glenn Branca and Rhys Chatham owe a lot to MMM too (and so does Neil Young's Arc, which was appropriate since modern classical music fed his avant leanings back at the start of the Velvets.

Reed would later form the Metal Machine Trio with one of the ensemble members (saxist Ulrich Krieger) and toured with them starting in 2008. In April 2009, they played at Gramercy Theater, a venue right around the corner from me. I took a pass on that though. Even as a fan, I had my limits.

MARCH 2008- SXSW keynote, Austin, Texas

My annual pilgrimage to my favorite music festival turned out to be an another audience with Reed, this time with him as the fest's keynote speaker. Reed was in his typical low-key, dry, grizzled wise-man/funny-man mode in his hour-long conversation with producer/collaborate Hal Wilner, who showed an excerpt from Julian Schnabel's concert film Lou Reed's Berlin and added in questions that fans submitted via SXSW's web page. Reed liked the idea of the film reviving the album and thought out loud that the same thing might be good to do with Magic and Loss, which he noted was already out of print. I sympathized with Reed's gripping about the lo-fi quality that MP3's were bringing to music- “technology is taking us backwards." He also had sage advice to young artists just signing up with a label: “They're always going to say that they want the publishing. You always say no." He also ticked off a list of recent artists that liked such as Melt Banana, Holy F*ck and Joan As Policewoman. My favorite quote of that morning (and probably everyone else's) was "I have a B.A. in dope, but a Ph.D. in soul" but thanks to SXSW itself (which noted that he was the only keynote speaker to bring his own mikes), the clip above has plenty of other gems worth quoting.

Fondly remembering the original reviews of Berlin: “Worst album every made. Most depressing album ever made."

His self-sabotaging career: “'Wild Side' (was) followed by Berlin. The opportunity of a life time and of course I fucked it up. Rock and Roll Animal- that was used to undo the damage of Berlin. Berlin was used in a lawsuit against me by my management to show that I couldn't handle my own affairs because I would make an album like that... And then I had an album called New York and that had like a little, baby success called 'Dirty Blvd.' And I followed it with something complicated (Magic and Loss) and fucked it up again."

Part of his motivation to do Magic and Loss and a very prescient thought now: "There's no contemporary music of the kind I'm interested in that deals with the problem of what happens when a friend dies."

An instrument he loves other than the guitar: “I think it's the most extraordinary instrument I've ever seen- the Mini Moog Voyager… I'm not a keyboard player but I could sit and play that for hours. I've done things for meditation music using that... Imagine God showed up and said 'I will give you 9,000 new sounds' (shakes his head in disbelief) That's my idea of heaven... (laughs)"

On the creative process: “The thing I got going for me is instinct. I can feel it. I try not to think. Thinking won't get me where I want to go. It'll just show me where the store is, where it's sold. But then instinct makes the music."

Writing hit songs: “If I could have done it, I would have had (written) 'Son of Wild Side' and I'd own an island in the Caribbean. But I don't know how to do it and I don't how it works or why it works or what it has to do with anything..."

Genesis of punk attitude and VU: “Very pure. ...That's the kind of music I wanted to make with the Velvet Underground. So we had a little fine system- no R&B licks, no blues guitar licks, because you can't play 'em."

Just in case someone didn't get the point, at a tribute show to him later that day, he showed up at the end to join Moby for “Walk on the Walk Side," telling the crowd “I love punk rock, and I was the first one."

MAY 2008- Highline Ballroom

Just two months later came my second and last Reed concert, happening again on our mutual home turf. I ponied up $85 (not including 'convenience fees') to see him in a smaller venue in Chelsea, albeit one that he played for its opening one year before this. In a lot of ways, it was almost the opposite of the Beacon show I saw eight years before this- Lou was now giving the people what they wanted, mostly. Starting out with a song from Ecstasy, he went through respectable versions of some Velvets numbers and even ended off with "Walk On the Wild Side," which thrilled the packed crowd. Mind you, he didn't phone in the show but it wasn't the revelation that he gave the Beacon crowd. Still, here he was, boosting a smaller local club than what he would usually play at and having another hardcore Gotham music booster in the form of saxist/composer and Downtown scene-maker John Zorn by his side for most of the show. He and Zorn would go on to play other more experimental shows in the next few years in NYC, again showing that his restless musical side was still active.

You can see the setlist for the show here.

SEPTEMBER 2008- Le Poisson Rouge

A NYC Reed show that I didn't attend. This was shared by impresario Brice Rosenbloom on a music mailing list just days after Reed passed away, recalling when Lou was boosting yet another smaller NYC venue.

"I had the privilege of meeting Lou several times over the past few years. Lou, John Zorn, and Mike Patton played LPR's opening night five years ago to a packed crowd, some who wanted their money back when the noise rock set ended without including 'Walk on The Wild Side.'

The following night Lou graciously agreed to sit in with Zorn again (also with Marc Ribot and Milford Graves), this time replacing Bill Laswell who wasn't well at the time. They played a more in-the-pocket improvisatory set than the previous night. The last time I saw Lou was at Michael Dorf's Downtown Sedar at City Winery, Lou played the role of the Wise Child, reading the lyrics of Bob Marley's Exodus in true poetic Lou Reed fashion. Dorf refers to that moment and others in his tribute to Lou published in The Jewish Week."

At the end of the post, Rosenbloom had another little gem to share: Zorn, Lou and Laurie performance at Japan Society

Needless to say, I wish I could have seen either of the concerts but after all of those events, shows and run-in's (like seeing him saunter across to his table at the Marianne Faithfull show six months after this LPR show), I guess I took it for granted that Reed was kind of this ubiquitous presence that I'd keep seeing or running into, plus the inescapable considerations of time and money. The fact that there wouldn't be many more of these events was something that I couldn't imagine at the time, though I did notice that at the Faithfull show he looked kind of pale and weak.

At a certain point, no matter how grizzled rockers get, you take it for granted that at some point they're not going to be around anymore. Lou Reed seemed to be in that exalted club along with Keith Richards, Iggy Pop, Lemmy and Jerry Lee Lewis- larger than life figures who had lived hard and yet remain miracles of science as they somehow managed to reach old age and didn't seem to have any intention of stopping or slowing down, much less shaking off their mortal coil. Maybe that's why it really was a shock that Reed did leave us.

DECEMBER 2009- New York Public Library

David Fricke, Lou Reed, Maureen 'Mo' Tucker, Doug Yule; photo credit: Peter Foley; LIVE from the NYPL

To celebrate the release of his book The Velvet Underground- New York Art, Johan Kugelberg (who also has his own PSF tribute to Lou here) and the NYPL managed to pull off quite a coup by assembling Reed and Moe Tucker (who both contributed to the book) along with ex-Velvets Doug Yule for a virtual reunion and a conversation with Rolling Stone's David Fricke. My memory of the event was preserved thanks to the fact that I tweeted manically as you'll see below, using the hashtag #velvetsatlibrary and amending it slightly for easier reading.

If things get boring, I have 2 words for Lou during the Q&A: "Lester Bangs"

A skipping record to introduce them. Appropriate?

Intro; we sit in the dark, silently listening to "Heroin"

They arrive to standing ovation

Moe on ambition of band "we were playing for us"

Lou on Warhol "he was one of the greatest people I've ever met in my life... he told us 'don't change anything'"

Lou says he's tried in vein to find a tribal drummer after Moe- "it was impossible"

Lou "I don't think that there's anything that ever came close (to us). We weren't kidding around"

Why Nico was brought in by Warhol- Lou: "we needed a chanteuse- none of (the rest of) us were good looking enough"

Lou "if I could really sing, I would be Nolan Strong"

Lou on Ornette "he changed my way of thinking about playing guitar forever"

Doug on Moe "complete power"; Moe on Lou "he was a noisy little guy"

Lou "Rolling Stone wasn't OK (with us)". Also mad he couldn't edit Wiki mistakes about him

On the band wearing black: Lou "we were human screens for his (films) potpourri shows"

Moe "there wasn't a lot of planning. we were just doing what we wanted to do... having fun"

Moe on her playing "I didn't know how to do a lot of stuff & I didn't wanna know"

Lou on opening for Sly Stone "it must have been great"

"Years ago, could you imagine being asked about Velvets?" Lou "I wasn't capable of thinking 40 yrs ahead"

One last thing- Cale's name was barely mentioned at all

Afterwards, Lou/Moe/Doug was at a table signing all kinds of records, books, memorabilia for fans and for some reason, I passed on this, yet another chance to meet (albeit briefly) Reed. Maybe it was because I was worried about the whole 'meeting your heroes' thing and knew that he wasn't always the sweetest of guys though when I met Pete Townshend and Ray Davies at other signings later, they were perfectly nice. During the interview that night, Lou himself was sedate, succinct and low key, in his elder statesman mode that he'd occupied for a while now. I did say hi to Kugelberg afterwards, just to thank him for getting me into the quickly-sold-out event and getting a chance to see this historic occasion.

A few weeks later, Reed would participate in a benefit show at St. Ann's for another NY musical institution- ailing singer/poet/writer Tuli Kupferberg of the Fugs (who would pass away about five months later).

JUNE 2010- Coney Island Mermaid Parade

photo by Jason Gross

A Gotham tradition since 1983, I had been going to this pretty regularly since I arrived in Manhattan in 1990. It's a great summer ritual, seeing hundreds of people in freaky water-themed costumes only rivaled by the Village Halloween Parade. It doubles as a great excuse to go on the rides at Astroland (my girlfriend loves the Cyclone but I'm scared shitless of it and prefer the Ferris Wheel), eat at Nathan's (not just the hot dogs but also the crinkle-cut fries), enjoy a good Chinese food buffet near the train station, roam the boardwalk, watch the elaborate and imaginative floats go by and just soak up the nice summer weather near the beach.

I always like to get there a little early to get a good vantage point to see everything before the hoards of people show up. This particular year was really worth it because it just so happened that Reed and Laurie Anderson would be the parade's king and queen, an honor bestowed on local celebs (Moby was the king a subsequent year and they've also had David Johansen and David Byrne as royalty too). Thanks to my good positioning and good shutter reflexes, I managed to snap a good pair of pics as Reed and Anderson went by. She was all smiles, wearing a crown and taking her own pictures of the crowd while Reed was much more serious, in his custom shades plus visor cap, shorts, and sneakers with a green robe draped around him. I remember lots of well-earned cheering and waving to them as they went by.

To me, what was even more interesting was what was happening with Reed and Anderson just before this public event. One month before the parade, they did a concert for canines in Sydney and one month after the parade, they did a controversial, not-well-received show in Montreal with Zorn. Just to prove how unpredictable and all over the place he was, right around this time too, Reed not only squashed a public spat with pop singing superstar Susan Boyle, but he also worked with her in Scotland on a video of his song "Perfect Day."

And just to up the ante and further confuse admirers, he also produced this bizarre infomercial a few months before the parade for a product to help you read your smart phone easier- Lou Zoom:

Being a Reed fan meant never being bored.

photo by Jason Gross

MARCH 2011- PSF article

Ah, another article on the inscrutable, seemingly inescapable Metal Machine Music.

Logan K. Young "FFT on MMM"
"A disconcerting, disaffected LP of nothing but hard-panned guitar feedback accompanied by Reed's surly,amphetamine-induced machinations, the record was an abysmal failure. The High Modernists might have made a point - perhaps a raison d'etre even -in alienating the very audiences who read them, but Lou Reed was notJames Joyce and MMM certainly wasn't a Finnegans Wake. It was the studiofollow-up to Sally Can't Dance, however, Reed's highest-charting record of the '70's."

SEPTEMBER 2011 – New York Public Library

photo by Jason Gross; left to right: Reed, Robert Wilson, Lucinda Childs, Rufus Wainwright

To celebrate theater director Robert Wilson's 70th birthday, NYPL had this event/talk where he appeared along with collaborators such as choreographer Lucinda Child, singer Rufus Wainwright and Reed. Only six months before this, I attended another NYPL interview with Keith Richards to commemorate his autobiography, with Reed joining the crowd as a late entry to take a seat at the front row. Clearly a booster of yet another NYC institution, Reed was back again at NYPL, as a participant now.

Luckily, NYPL documented and saved the whole event which you can not only stream but also download here.

While Wainwright sang a beautiful solo piece (see my video below), Reed spoke about his collaboration with Wilson ("Time Rocker") and played an excerpt of his upcoming collaboration with Metallica (originating from their collaboration at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame's 25th Anniversary show in NYC in October 2009), Lulu, which would turn out to be his last record. Admittedly, it was brutal to sit through those couple of minutes while it played- the rest of the panel listened thoughtfully while Reed sat there stone-faced, appearing proud of his work, which had a grim, grinding power that stood in contrast to Wainwright's sad, uplifting number.

As it turns out, this would be the last time I would see Reed in person though I'd still have other kind of encounters with him over the next few years.

See Part III of this Reed tribute

See the other articles in our Lou Reed tribute

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