LOU REED TRIBUTE
Some thoughts on how and when I intersected with Lou Reed
by Pat Thomas
There's no reason for to me to tell you why Lou is great or describe how important the Velvet Underground is – hopefully you know that – and if you don't, well... I can't help you now.
Here are some random thoughts on how Lou's music touched me or when I tried to touch him.
The first Lou album (around age 16) I bought was an RCA retrospective from the mid ‘70's called Walk On The Wild Side: the Best of Lou Reed. There's obviously a lot of good songs on there – but the one that really struck me was "Wild Child" – its story telling/narrative reminded me of the primitive songs that I was writing and I thought "hey, this is what I'm trying to do!" Also, like Lou, I couldn't really sing and tended to ‘talk' my way through my songs in a lame attempt to sing them.
The next album I got was Rock n Roll Diary on Arista. (Are you starting to see a pattern, that a young broke teenager often bought compilations?). Rock n Roll Diary had one side of various Velvet Underground songs (most, if not all their records were out of print then), one side 1970's RCA stuff, and two sides of Arista material, including the epic suite "Street Hassle" and a slew of weird songs from The Bells and Growing Up In Public. I was hooked! Bad rhymes and inspired lyrics that touched on perverse sex and drugs, gay and bi-themes, hookers, dealers, growing old, acting like a kid, etc were not just unique, it sounded refreshing. Plus Lou's vocal style was all over the map: a high pitched lisp, whiny, mocking, you name it.
As the 1970's merged into the ‘80's, I don't think Lou toured much, so my first chance to see him was the 1984 New Sensations tour. I made full use of the term "trains, planes and automobiles" – I drove my car to the Rochester, NY airport and flew to Newark, NJ. I got on a bus to Manhattan and grabbed a train out to Stony Brook University on Long Island to see Lou play a show on campus. Then I got back on the train to NYC, took the bus back to Newark Airport, flew to Rochester, got back in the car and drove to Fredonia State College to see him again the next night. I was playing in a Velvet Underground inspired band then (who wasn't?) and so at the end of the show, I throw a tape of my band onto the stage. I saw a roadie pick it up and put it on an amp. A year later, I found out thru a student at the college that it was left in the dressing room. Oh well...
It was also around this time that WITR, the Rochester Institute of Technology radio station, asked me if I wanted to interview Lou by telephone. Boy, was I nervous and excited! I made the mistake of asking him questions that could all be answered "yes" or "no" – and of course that's exactly what Lou did. "Have you ever heard of a new band called the Dream Syndicate that has a Velvets-like sound?" "No" – I had feeling that he was lying about that one – as he had heard them via some journalist and he said "they sound like the Rolling Stones" (or something like that).
I can remember getting very excited when Songs For Drella came out, an actual Cale and Reed reunion! And then feeling a bit let down (but not surprised) when the editor of OPTION told me that by the time they were photographed for the cover story, the two guys were no longer speaking. I actually got a kick out of the American Express ad (I still have my little card-board cut-out of Lou from that campaign) but the Honda Scooter thing wasn't cool – mainly because Lou looked 100x tougher than the brightly colored scooter he was standing in front of. Plus let's face it, we already knew that "GPZ engine felt good between his thighs" so he wasn't riding a Honda. The release of the New York album a was revelation, that an artist you'd love could grow old and still make amazing records and a ‘concept album' to boot. And it felt genuine, as the City and Lou were interchangeable.
In 1993, I just happened to be living in Germany when the VU reunited and I saw the Hamburg, Germany show. It felt surreal – more like "this isn't really happening" – almost like I was watching a TV docu-drama or something – and that had more to do with me ‘over-thinking' the whole thing and not that the band played badly. It was good but not great and in my opinion, the officially released Paris show is kinda weak and nearly any bootlegged performance from another city is much, much better.
I was asked by the German magazine SPEX (sort of the SPIN of Germany if you like) to fly to Berlin to interview Lou, John, Sterling and Moe all at once. It was the only ‘private' interview they were granting in Germany; all others were press conference style with a ton of people. To say that I was nervous, was an under-statement. I paced the hotel for hours, went to the bathroom about 100 times, - you know the feeling. Sterling walked in first, alone. He made me feel comfortable with low-key conversation. John came in next and was remarkably friendly. Moe came in very late and had a hang-over and said nothing. Lou decided to not show up. Sterling, John and I had a wonderful chat – with the funniest moment being when John realized that Sterling and Doug Yule and Moe had continued on briefly without Lou circa 1970-71. "You played without Lou!?!" "How could you do that!?!" Sterling looked sheepish and said very little. It was actually kinda cute.
A couple of years after that, I was approached by some folks who were holding the original 4-track multi-track tapes of VU live at the Matrix, San Francisco, 1969. Some of these performances were released as a ‘rough mix' (but still great sounding) as part of that double Live 1969 LP with the ‘female boots and green cover' circa 1974 or so. However, this was more of it and a chance to actually ‘mix' separate tracks of bass, guitar, vocals, drums, to eventually release the only properly recorded LIVE VU album ever. When we first put the tape onto the reel to reel machine and turned up the speakers, it was playing backwards and of course, it was hard to tell for a moment what it was. I quickly recognized the song as "Heroin" and gleefully shouted that out. When we turned the tape around, it sounded even better! The guy who owned the tape said that I must be a junkie, because only a junkie would still recognize the song "Heroin" being played backwards. Those tapes remain unreleased and unmixed to this day. Every time I mention it to the "powers that be," I get sort of a "so what" response.
The last time I saw Lou play, was in a quaint smallish theater just south of San Francisco. It was around 2007 or so – and he played with just two other people – Rob Wasserman and Fernando Saunders (both on bass) and no drums and no other guitars. Lou played piano on a few songs. The set list was stripped of all the "hits" and Lou played ‘deep cuts' as they call them. Magical. There were only about 5 shows on this short West Coast tour and every time I go looking for a bootleg tape from any of the shows , nothing turns up. I tried again last week after Lou's passing.
I knew about 2 weeks before Lou passed that he wasn't long for this world. I'd heard thru some mutual friends of friend's network and was sworn to secrecy. I was able to keep my mouth shut. When he didn't pass on in the first week, I assumed he was gonna be OK. When his death came, I received a text from a friend asking me if it was true. Although I hadn't heard the news directly, I confirmed from knowing what I already knew – that it was. As the day went on, I got calls and texts from old friends as if a family member had died. Facebook over the next two days fed my obsessive/compulsive nature – I posted a ton of shit, I read everyone else's stuff, and felt sick to my stomach and tired, but I kept on going. I took a break after several hours and tried to wean myself. I put on my own personal Lou "best of" CD-R (no Velvets) and wept a bit. It took a few days to feel normal. Whatever that is. Mainly I'm mad at Lou for leaving me behind to deal with the rest of you assholes in this world. (smile)
November 7, 2013
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