Perfect Sound Forever


The Natural Smile of Lou Reed
by Johan Kugelberg
(December 2013)

According to my friend John Zorn, on rare occasions Lou Reed would break out into a smile that gave a glimpse of his private being, not the smile of a public self. This did not happen often, as a man of Lou's stature would live a guarded life whenever he was out in a public place. I saw it only once in our years of working together, but that one time brings me comfort as I mourn him. I had staged an exhibition on the life and work of Angus MacLise, the Velvet Undergrounds' first drummer, and a counter-culture polyglot of note. Lou was at the exhibit before it opened, for a sneak preview together with Zorn.

Lou admired Afrika Bambaataa a great deal, and the feeling was mutual. I was on the phone with Bam, and I mentioned that Lou was visiting the exhibit. "That cat is a great MC," Bambaataa said. After the phone conversation ended, I told Lou what Bam just had said, and the smile opened up like a bright springtime sun cracking a clouded sky.

Mere moments ago, I discovered that Lou's natural smile is captured on film, and available for all of us on Youtube. In 2009, I put together a big coffee table book slash artists' monograph for Rizzoli on the Velvet Underground with the help of Lou, Mo, Doug, Jon Savage, Vaclav Havel, Sal Mercuri, Olivier Landemaine and a hoard of others. I was pleased as punch that the people in the band loved it, and that Lou agreed to stage events together with me around its publication. One of the events was a poetry reading and book signing at Colette in Paris that I staged with my friend Sarah who runs this exemplary concept store (a store which has the rarified concept of utilizing fashion to facilitate art, music and general grassroots cultural activity where it is the other way around almost everywhere else). Lou and Lou's manager Tom arrived from Prague where he had performed for Vaclav Havel, celebrating him. Lou had sung with Renee Fleming and was raving like a schoolboy about her breathtaking artistry (and hey, what a total babe she is), and how happy he was with their performance of "Perfect Day."

Luckily, the performance was filmed, and is on Youtube- see above. I have watched it and listened to it and been swept away by it dozens and dozens of times. And since I received the news of Lou's passing, the pastoral elegance and artistic valor of this performance is my tonic, folded into my mourning, making me tear up and smile simultaneously. Minutes ago, I discovered that this very performance contains a true moment of the sublime: at 3.27, as Renee Fleming is bringing it on home - like a Little Richard of opera - the inmost light of Lou Reed's natural smile unfolds for us all to behold. It is as breathtakingly beautiful as his poetry and music.

My gratitude for the companionship of Lou Reeds' art on this our walk on Earth feels immense and without any limitations of space or of time, of life or of death.

Requiescat In Pace Lou Reed. That cat was one great MC.

Also see the author's Lou Reed article at the Huffington Post UK

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