LOU REED TRIBUTE
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 III
OCTOBER 2012- PSF article
Even though I didn't like the record from the time he premiered it at the Library, I had no problem with another writer presenting a public defense of the album, much as other scribes went to bat for MMM
5-Track: "LULU or The Post-Modern Prometheus"
5-Track: "Look. The way to deal with this record is this. Put it on.Vinyl if you can spring the $40, if not then a used CD goes for $11.99 at Amoeba, and if you're really strapped you can actually still stream it legally off the website. So, do that (but the vinyl or the CD will sound a LOT better, cos mp3's, let me just slip this in here somewhere early while you're still paying attention, suck). Turn it up. A lot. Crank it. No headphones, no dinky computer speakers. Use the best-sounding system available. Cos Lou would want you to, and I think probably so would Metallica. If you drink whiskey, smoke pot, sniff glue, whatever, do some of that right now."
And just as Reed defended (not to mention resurrected) MMM, he was also unapologetic about Lulu, brushing aside the negative reaction to it- then again, he had a lot of experience biting back against bad reviews. In a USA Today interview, he defiantly said "No one wants Lulu Part 2, but on Radio Lou, in my head where I hear these songs, I want more of it."
OCTOBER 201310/4/13 – Village Cinema East
The movie AKA Doc Pomus was premiering in New York, which was appropriate as this is where the legendary Brill Building songwriter's home was and where he did his historic musical work. Luckily, I bought my ticket in advance for the screening as the line wrapped around the block for the showing which would include some special guests there. Along with some tear-jerking scenes about Doc and his first wife, there were also some moving scenes recalling Doc's funeral and how he still managed to wield influence then. Throughout the movie, someone was narrating Doc's journals/diaries and it obviously wasn't Doc himself- eventually it set in that it was none other than his old friend and pupil Reed. It made total sense as Magic and Loss was partially inspired by Doc and of course also because of the long-standing friendship they had. After the movie finished, the film-makers and Doc's daughter (who co-produced) praised Reed for his help with the film. During the Q&A, I admitted that I was moved to tears during some of the scenes, despite never knowing or meeting Doc and the film's editor admitted that it happened to her also as she assembled the footage. Little did we know that in a few weeks, we would also be mourning Reed.
I also did a more detailed blog post on the film too.
10/12/13 - Train to Poughkeepsie
A week later, my girlfriend Robin and I took what would be my first trip to Woodstock- kind of shameful for a music nut to admit that it took him decades to go there but it's true (even though the '69 festival actually took place miles away, in another town). We took the Metro North train up there which was an hour-plus ride to Poughkeepsie and was great for me because I love the ride- you don't have to drive or worry about traffic and you can watch the lovely, picturesque Hudson Valley scenery along the way and do some nice leaf-peeping while you're at it. I usually also like to bring a book and music for the ride, taking my iPod that Robin had gotten me for a present. It has lots of room on it but for a music nut with too many albums, space is a concern so I can only put so many records on it. As such, I have to pick and choose what I really need to hear on an ongoing basis including old favorites and newer stuff I wanna sink my ears/brain into. One album I knew that I had to have on there was The Velvet Underground And Nico. Admittedly, after listening to it dozens and dozens of time in high school and college, I might have burned out on it after a while, and couldn't remember the last time I played the whole thing. For some reason, it just seemed like the right time to put it on again.
I know the album's been written up to death but there's a good reason for that. Forty-years-plus after the fact, the damn thing just sounded so fresh as if time hadn't taken anything at all away from it and somehow it provided the perfect aural background for a fall weekend. Hearing it again, all kinds of scattered thoughts crawled through my head, compelling me to jot down notes, thinking I might find an occasion to write about it, not knowing that it would wind up here.
After the rumbling tones of "European Son" ended, I still had over a half hour left on the train ride but I couldn't listen to any other music then. It didn't seem like anything could really follow it up.
- It's such a meaty record- easy to see why it's so influential and why fans continually pick it apart
- Even before Summer of Love, Reed was already killing off the hippie dream, casting a jaundiced eye on the idea of drugs and free love
- There's some obvious borrowings there- the Dylan yelps on "Run Run Run," the Marvin Gaye "Hitchhike" rip on "Here She Comes" but there's little unoriginal about "Venus," "European Son," "Black Angel," "Heroin"
- early R&B and jazz cleverly hinted as fornication but nothing as explicit as here- ditto for narcotics. Lyrically, Reed pushed issues that were there in music before farther than before as if he hit a fast-forward button in terms of cultural mores and how they could be used in rock- The Fugs did so too just before that but less elegantly.
- "I'll Be Your Mirror"- sweet, kind, gentle- again Nico puts Reed's words across more powerfully and yet delicately than he could; much more so that "Sunday Morning"; contrast to the nasty lyrics and music heard elsewhere- some chance for salvation among the chaos
- "Heroin"- structure of it is almost classical in design (most rock/pop songs keep the same time signature throughout the song); alternating cycle of catatonia (gentle, sleepy) and frenzy
- Bands like Pink Floyd and West Coast San Fran acts were also starting to present multi-media sensory overload experiences with their live acts at the same time- difference with Velvets was that it was meant in a more antagonistic way, more of a NY attitude to it
- Velvets were NY'ers but had international contingent/influence with German Nico and Welch Cale
- Cale's manic viola playing on "Black Angel's Death Song" recalls Appalachian reels- sounds like something that could have been put on the Harry Smith folk anthology.
- "European Son" is apocalyptic and a fitting finish to the album. It's dedicated to poet (and Reed's college prof) Delmore Schwartz but also, as he claimed, Ornette Coleman, whose unbridled, frenetic playing you can hear in Reed's guitar there. The song is also a huge contrast to sweetness at the start of the album.
- Interesting that this came from a guy who had just been working as a small label hack (at Pickwick Records) and hooked up with a bunch of avant artists (Cale, Angus MacLise, Tony Conrad).
- The Cale (and La Monte Young) connection helped to get Reed into modern classical music and that helped modern classical be accepted into rock/pop world.
- Reed had similar influences to Frank Zappa, who was also a fan of '50's R&B as well as modern classical, also weaving both into his music.
- The album runs through a range of emotions from tenderness to anger to insanity, not to mention perversion and addiction. As such, I don't think of it as an album so much as a 3/4 hour adventure.
10/27/13 - streets of midtown Manhattan
I'm walking outside on my afternoon lunch break around 1:30 when I get this text from Robin:
"Just heard Lou Reed passed away"
That's how I first found out. I was pretty devastated and could only respond to her with a lame-sounding but heartfelt "OMG" and spent the rest of the day in kind of a daze.
That same day, music event producer Molly Small (who I knew from a mailing list) also had her own sad moment.
"I got a text from my cousin within the hour of the announcement on Rolling Stone. I was at Allswell (restaurant) in Williamsburg. It was brunch and I was eating with my husband who was reading the Times. I'm crying and the stranger next to me asked me if I was sad about Lou Reed. She said, 'yeah, this is like a little bit of NY gone.' Sometimes I love Brooklyn."
I'd just hasten to add that Brooklyn was also where Reed came from.
10/29/13 - Irving Plaza
I went to see Cali punks Thee Oh Sees and though they didn't do any Reed songs that evening, with their flat vocals, thumping drums and feedback guitar, you couldn't help but think of Reed and figure that it was some kind of tribute to him, even if some of the younger crowd didn't realize it. Another crowd did realize it for sure at the band's show on the 27th in Brooklyn where, as Brooklyn Vegan reported, they dedicated the show to Reed and played his music in between the sets.
11/2/13 – Morgan Library
Part of what upset me when Robin told me the news was that I had a ticket to see Reed at the Morgan Library a week later (November 5th) where he was going to be interviewed about and speak about one of his heroes, Edgar Allan Poe, whose work was on display there. I still had the elaborate ticket for the show, which I decided to keep as a memento- an Aussie friend (Aaron Goldberg who also had a Reed tribute here) made me promise that I'd frame it for him to see the next time he'd come to visit. I was selfish in thinking that it would have been nice if Reed could have just stuck around one more week for the event. I thought one way to get a taste of what that would be like was to just go and see the exhibit myself, which wasn't too much of a stretch since I'd been a Poe fan myself for a while.
When I got there after work, I was pleasantly surprised to find out that like the Whitney, the Morgan also offers Friday night free admission. The guard directed me to the Poe exhibit which was past a classical string duo performing in the atrium and through several sets of doors to the side. Outside a large reddened room was the exhibit information written on the wall and small daguerreotype of Poe. Inside were handwritten manuscripts of his short stories and poems, along with original letters to and from the author, including several angry communiques with editors and other writers. Between his imbibing and public battles with scribes, all I think of is that Reed had to see him as not a model for writing but also someone whose life was something of a reflection of his own. What was also extraordinary, and what I didn't realize much before, is how influential Poe's work was- handwritten documents from Arthur Conan Doyle, Vladimir Nabokov, Robert Louis Stevenson, Oscar Wilde and others confirmed that such legendary literary characters as Dr. Jekyll, Humbert Humbert (Lolita), Sherlock Holmes, Dorian Gray and others also were liberally borrowed from stories and ideas that originated with Poe. As misguide as some people say Reed's The Raven album (which still had an amazing guest list), you could see why he so entranced by the author.
11/3/13 - St. Ann's Church
photo by Jason Gross
Though the Day of the Dead was officially on November 1st, St. Mark's Church in the East Village traditionally has an outdoor fair to celebrate it all weekend. As the name of the holiday implies, this is a time to honor those who've passed on. For me, it was also an opportunity to collect all manner of DOTD items, which I gladly did that day, emptying out my wallet to get a mirror, jeweled cross, tiny ceramic figures, etc.
For the small fair, organized by Mano A Mano (a non-profit group celebrating Mexican culture), there was also a white tent which stood to commemorate several Hispanic musicians and artists who recently died (including a painter, a poet/actor, a singer/songwriter, a Luchador/wrestler) but also gave anyone who came there the opportunity to light a candle and add it to the large display to honor someone in their own life. I made a donation and wrote down on a small pink Post-it note they provided the names of four people that I missed and wanted to honor:
Dr. Arthur F. Gross
The first was my dad, who died of diabetes just after I started college. Then there was my grandmother who had recently passed away at the age of 97 and was one of the people in my family that I was closest with. Mr. Quine I spoke about earlier here. Forster (who I misspelled on my list) was Ari Up of the Slits, who I became friends with in the last years of her life and whom I miss dearly (I wrote more about her on my blog here). The left side of the tent display was already pretty crowded with candles so I walked over to the farther side on the right to put my candle and paper at the top of the display. I was getting a little teary, thinking about these four people who affected me so much, when I saw out of the side of my eye someone familiar starring back at me. It was Reed. Not an apparition (though that would have been cool) but his face via the cover photo/story from the Village Voice. Someone from the group who set up the tent might have made this wonderful and a very appropriate gesture to include him in a memorial like this. I also thought it was appropriate that Mr. Quine's name would appear alongside him there. I reached over to the paper near the candle and added Reed's name to my list.
photo by Jason Gross
11/20/13- Rodeo Bar
A small Murray Hill Tex-Mex joint (a whopping 5 minute walk from my apartment) has a small side venue that usually has roots music showcases with no cover charge, which is a rarity in Gotham nowadays. When they announced that they were going to have a Reed tribute, attendance was a no-brainer. There were no 'big' names on the bill but didn't matter- these were NYC-area performers, exactly the kind of people who ideally would be paying their respects to an NYC institution like Reed.
I got there just after it started and was gone before the big finish but I got to see enough of the middle of the show to be satisfied. After a rant/rap/riff on "Heroin" by singer-songwriter Jake Holmes, Glenn Morrow (honcho of Bar/None Records) came on to do two wonderful lesser-known Velvets songs from their third album- "I'm Set Free" and "Beginning to See the Light." Just as Reed found female voices like Nico and Moe Tucker more appropriate to do his songs in the Vevlets, it was fitting that the Rodeo Bar bill had women covering Reed too, including Lisa Zwier (owner of defunct NYC roots bar Banjo Jim) doing New York's "Romeo Had Juliet" and multi-instrumentalist/soundtrack-composer Ann Klein doing "Vicious" (from Transformer) and both sounding fine. Especially moving was when the house band's bassist put down her instrument and picked up a ukulele to do "I'll Be Your Mirror." At that point, the tattooed Daria Grace (who liked like a biker-bar regular but works as a music instructor) turned the Nico vocal into Moe Tucker territory, transforming the chanteuse's coldness into sweet meekness. When I cornered her after her set to tell her how much that affected me, she glowed in appreciation.
Lisa Zwier and Daria Grace; photo by Jason Gross
When the band announced that they were going to do something a little experimental and started up the "Murder Mystery" riff, it was exciting to think that someone was crazy enough to attempt it, but with the help of three other readers speaking over each other, Figgs drummer Pete Hayes did just that and an uncoverable song had just been covered.
C. Gibbs on the left; photo by Jason Gross
Singer Jason Walker mildly bragged that he'd met and sang with Reed twice ('couldn't have been nicer') and then he did an uncanny imitation of Reed on "How Do You Think It Feels." When singer C. Gibbs (formerly of Foetus and Modern English) also did an impressive take on Reed's singing on "Wild Side," something hit me, not just about the song but about Reed's voice. Sure, Reed always sang flatly but hearing the song that night made me realize how distinct his voice still was and how much he did with it. As for "Wild Side," I just plain never liked it- it was overplayed, seemed like a silly novelty tune and was the only song that most people knew of Reed. Hearing it recreated on the small stage (complete with a 'colored girl' on backing vocals and a sax solo at the end), I actually started to appreciate it for what it was: in that one song, Reed had taken the tales of sleaze from the Cale-era Velvet albums and combined it with the calm of the third Velvets' record. In it, Reed also paints a vivid picture of pre-Giuliani 42nd Street and as such, the tune really is a part of Gotham lore.
After hearing Babe The Blue Ox roar through "Foggy Notion," I was ready to go home, not because I wasn't enjoying myself but it was a school night and work in the morning was calling soon. Before leaving, I peaked at the detailed set list and was sad to glimpse at what I hadn't or wouldn't see. In the beginning, they started off with King Missile's John S. Hall ("Waves of Fear") and poet Anne Waldman ("I'm Sticking With You") and at the end, they had famed artist Vito Acconci doing a 'Berlin reading' and they finished off with 'House band/All' doing "What Goes On," "Sister Ray" and "Sweet Jane" (and 'In our back pocket "What Goes On"'). I also noticed that most of the standing crowd (and some of the ones in seats) were the show's revolving door of musicians/bands, paying respect and in a way, consoling each other musically.
Along with these few unexpected revelations, everything heard at the show was heartfelt, even when the words were read off pieces of paper- Lou was a wordy guy and you go ahead and try to memorize "Murder Mystery" yourself, OK? Most of the material was his lesser-known work as befits music fans on and off the stage there. Seeing this made me appreciate again what a legacy Reed had left. No doubt there would be bigger tributes happening for him soon enough but having these local legends toast him in a small NYC club was a true testament to Reed and what he was all about.
(Special thanks to Stephen Clair who filled in a lot of details here and organized the event itself. He filmed the show and said that he plans to put parts of it on his website.)
11/24/13- Madison Square Garden
photo by Jason Gross
As excited as I was to see hip hop legends A Tribe Called Quest (opening for Kanye West), I also knew that it would mean that I would be missing a Reed tribute that same night, this time a benefit at Bowery Electric which featuring Lenny Kaye, Ivan Julian (Voidoids), Arto Linsday, Jeffrey Lewis and members of TV on the Radio. Here again, it was nice and appropriate that New Yorkers were going to be paying tribute to a New Yorker. It didn't occur to me until later that I would be seeing the same thing happen, albeit in a different way.
That night, the Tribe blazed non-stop through their hits including "Electric Relaxation," "Sucka Nigger," "Buggin' Out," "Award Tour" and "Check The Rhyme" with a huge multi-screen backdrop showing bits of their videos. For "Bonita Applebaum," they had a shapely woman come out carrying a huge apple. For "Scenario," Busta Rhymes came out as a surprise guest to reprise his verse from the single. They'd come a long way from where I'd seen them open for the Jungle Brothers and 3rd Bass back in March 1990 and they admitted in an interview that they were working hard to come up with a memorable live act, later coming out in dark colored robes at the concert.
photo by Jason Gross
As I was enjoying the MSG show, singing along to some of the lyrics that I remembered, I heard that a familiar dipping bass line reverberate through the arena. Then I realized that it was the intro to their 1990 song "Can I Kick It?" which happened to sample "Walk On the Wild Side." The crowd bounced along in appreciation, hearing one of their best tunes and shouted back "Yes, you can!" in synch with the lyrics when the group shouted the song title at them. No one in the group said anything about Reed per se but there and then, you had thousands of people in the arena dancing along to his music regardless if they knew that the sample came from his song or if many of them knew even who Reed was. The crowd looked young enough that many of them might not even have been born when the Tribe themselves started- though a younger guy to my left was also yelling along with the lyrics, two others to my right were wondering who were these guys on stage.
At the end of the show, Q-Tip thanked the audience and told them that the group was coming to an end again and that it was appropriate that it was happening in New York since this is where they started. It was kind of sad and poignant moment for sure. I also thought somehow I'd come full circle there too. The first time I'd seen Reed (at the BAM concert with Cale) was not long before I'd the first time I'd seen the Tribe too. And now because of "Kick It"/"Wild Side," that connection was there again. And though I missed the Bowery Electric tribute, I saw another great bunch of New York musicians toast Reed there at the Garden. And I knew that there would be other nights in the city where Reed would be feted both directly and indirectly, again and again. That thought brought me as much as comfort and satisfaction as the best of Reed's songs and albums had done for years now. And I knew that music would do the same for me for years to come.
photo by Jason Gross
See the rest of our Lou Reed tribute
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