This was the last photo taken of Lou Reed before he died last Sunday. (He was 71.) It was shot by Jean Baptiste Mondino for an intended ad. Tom Sarig explains:
Just a couple of weeks ago Lou did a photo session intended to become a print ad for his friend Henri Seydoux‘s French audio headphones company Parrot. The renowned photographer Jean Baptiste Mondino took the shots, and this was the very last shot he took. Always a tower of strength.
To watch his last interview at the photo shoot, from Sept. 21, click here to hear him discuss “the sound of love.”
A week ago, Lou’s wife, experimental-music performance artist Laurie Anderson, wrote an obit for her husband, which appeared in The East Hampton Star, the Long Island paper published in the area where she and Reed had been spending time in recent years. Here’s what Laurie wrote:
To our neighbors:
What a beautiful fall! Everything shimmering and golden and all that incredible soft light. Water surrounding us.
Lou and I have spent a lot of time here in the past few years, and even though we’re city people this is our spiritual home.
Last week I promised Lou to get him out of the hospital and come home to Springs. And we made it!
Lou was a tai chi master and spent his last days here being happy and dazzled by the beauty and power and softness of nature. He died on Sunday morning looking at the trees and doing the famous 21 form of tai chi with just his musician hands moving through the air.
Lou was a prince and a fighter and I know his songs of the pain and beauty in the world will fill many people with the incredible joy he felt for life. Long live the beauty that comes down and through and onto all of us.
— Laurie Anderson
his loving wife and eternal friend
By Laurie Anderson November 6, 2013 12:00 PM ET
I met Lou in Munich, not New York. It was 1992, and we were both playing in John Zorn’s Kristallnacht festival commemorating the Night of Broken Glass in 1938, which marked the beginning of the Holocaust. I remember looking at the rattled expressions on the customs officials’ faces as a constant stream of Zorn’s musicians came through customs all wearing bright red RHYTHM AND JEWS! T-shirts.
John wanted us all to meet one another and play with one another, as opposed to the usual “move-’em-in-and-out” festival mode. That was why Lou asked me to read something with his band. I did, and it was loud and intense and lots of fun. After the show, Lou said, “You did that exactly the way I do it!” Why he needed me to do what he could easily do was unclear, but this was definitely meant as a compliment.
I liked him right away, but I was surprised he didn’t have an English accent. For some reason I thought the Velvet Underground were British, and I had only a vague idea what they did. (I know, I know.) I was from a different world. And all the worlds in New York around then – the fashion world, the art world, the literary world, the rock world, the financial world – were pretty provincial. Somewhat disdainful. Not yet wired together.
As it turned out, Lou and I didn’t live far from each other in New York, and after the festival Lou suggested getting together. I think he liked it when I said, “Yes! Absolutely! I’m on tour, but when I get back – let’s see, about four months from now – let’s definitely get together.” This went on for a while, and finally he asked if I wanted to go to the Audio Engineering Society Convention. I said I was going anyway and would meet him in Microphones. The AES Convention is the greatest and biggest place to geek out on new equipment, and we spent a happy afternoon looking at amps and cables and shop-talking electronics. I had no idea this was meant to be a date, but when we went for coffee after that, he said, “Would you like to see a movie?” Sure. “And then after that, dinner?” OK. “And then we can take a walk?” “Um . . .” From then on we were never really apart.
Lou and I played music together, became best friends and then soul mates, traveled, listened to and criticized each other’s work, studied things together (butterfly hunting, meditation, kayaking). We made up ridiculous jokes; stopped smoking 20 times; fought; learned to hold our breath underwater; went to Africa; sang opera in elevators; made friends with unlikely people; followed each other on tour when we could; got a sweet piano-playing dog; shared a house that was separate from our own places; protected and loved each other. We were always seeing a lot of art and music and plays and shows, and I watched as he loved and appreciated other artists and musicians. He was always so generous. He knew how hard it was to do. We loved our life in the West Village and our friends; and in all, we did the best we could do.
Like many couples, we each constructed ways to be – strategies, and sometimes compromises, that would enable us to be part of a pair. Sometimes we lost a bit more than we were able to give, or gave up way too much, or felt abandoned. Sometimes we got really angry. But even when I was mad, I was never bored. We learned to forgive each other. And somehow, for 21 years, we tangled our minds and hearts together.
It was spring in 2008 when I was walking down a road in California feeling sorry for myself and talking on my cell with Lou. “There are so many things I’ve never done that I wanted to do,” I said.
“You know, I never learned German, I never studied physics, I never got married.”
“Why don’t we get married?” he asked. “I’ll meet you halfway. I’ll come to Colorado. How about tomorrow?”
“Um – don’t you think tomorrow is too soon?”
“No, I don’t.”
And so the next day, we met in Boulder, Colorado, and got married in a friend’s backyard on a Saturday, wearing our old Saturday clothes, and when I had to do a show right after the ceremony, it was OK with Lou. (Musicians being married is sort of like lawyers being married. When you say, “Gee, I have to work in the studio till three tonight” – or cancel all your plans to finish the case – you pretty much know what that means and you don’t necessarily hit the ceiling.)
I guess there are lots of ways to get married. Some people marry someone they hardly know – which can work out, too. When you marry your best friend of many years, there should be another name for it. But the thing that surprised me about getting married was the way it altered time. And also the way it added a tenderness that was somehow completely new. To paraphrase the great Willie Nelson: “Ninety percent of the people in the world end up with the wrong person. And that’s what makes the jukebox spin.” Lou’s jukebox spun for love and many other things, too – beauty, pain, history, courage, mystery.
Lou was sick for the last couple of years, first from treatments of interferon, a vile but sometimes effective series of injections that treats hepatitis C and comes with lots of nasty side effects. Then he developed liver cancer, topped off with advancing diabetes. We got good at hospitals. He learned everything about the diseases, and treatments. He kept doing tai chi every day for two hours, plus photography, books, recordings, his radio show with Hal Willner and many other projects. He loved his friends, and called, texted, e-mailed when he couldn’t be with them. We tried to understand and apply things our teacher Mingyur Rinpoche said – especially hard ones like, “You need to try to master the ability to feel sad without actually being sad.”
Last spring, at the last minute, he received a liver transplant, which seemed to work perfectly, and he almost instantly regained his health and energy. Then that, too, began to fail, and there was no way out. But when the doctor said, “That’s it. We have no more options,” the only part of that Lou heard was “options” – he didn’t give up until the last half-hour of his life, when he suddenly accepted it – all at once and completely. We were at home – I’d gotten him out of the hospital a few days before – and even though he was extremely weak, he insisted on going out into the bright morning light.
As meditators, we had prepared for this – how to move the energy up from the belly and into the heart and out through the head. I have never seen an expression as full of wonder as Lou’s as he died. His hands were doing the water-flowing 21-form of tai chi. His eyes were wide open. I was holding in my arms the person I loved the most in the world, and talking to him as he died. His heart stopped. He wasn’t afraid. I had gotten to walk with him to the end of the world. Life – so beautiful, painful and dazzling – does not get better than that. And death? I believe that the purpose of death is the release of love.
At the moment, I have only the greatest happiness and I am so proud of the way he lived and died, of his incredible power and grace.
I’m sure he will come to me in my dreams and will seem to be alive again. And I am suddenly standing here by myself stunned and grateful. How strange, exciting and miraculous that we can change each other so much, love each other so much through our words and music and our real lives. [Source: Rolling Stone, Nov. 21, 2013 edition.]
There are other remembrances in Rolling Stone here, including tributes from Mick Jagger, David Byrne, Beck, Michael Stipe, Debbie Harry, Bono and Salman Rushdie. Rushie recalled that he was once at a dinner party in London with Laurie Anderson and was explaining he was a fan of Lou Reed’s music. Good, she said, because I’m seeing him now. “She called him [Lou]…and put us on the phone together. She said, “I’ve got someone here and he really likes your music, you should say hello.” So, we said hello. And not a whole lot more, but I think I was stammering incoherently at the time. It was like having God’s unlisted cell phone number,” Rushdie recalled.
The first Velvet Underground recording was pioneering in that it melded rock music with the underworld street scene in New York, the literary world and the NYC avant garde art scene, spawning countless imitators. Produced by Andy Warhol, the record initially only sold 30,000 copies. But as Brian Eno once said, everyone who bought the record was inspired to start their own band. Warhol recruited German actress/model Nico as a member of the Velvets. She had been in the groundbreaking 1959 Fellini film, La Dolce Vita:
This video uses some of the same film clips, plus Warhol film footage, set to the song Friendship Station 192 by NYC electroclash grrl group Le Tigre:
And here’s one final remembrance by a friend I went to Chouinard art school with in L.A. in the Sixties; Thomas O’Casey sent me this e-mail about the last time he saw Lou Reed:
“The last time was with [L.A. gallery owner] Nick Wilder…in his 1953 white Hearse, with dark green interior. We went to the Chateau Marmont, Hollywood, picked up Andy [Warhol], Lou Reed and the Velvet Underground….I was squished tight in the back with Nico — we talked all the way from Hollywood down Sunset Boulevard to downtown LA, to their concert at the Shrine Auditorium.“The1953 Hearse had a large door at the rear, where we were. After backing into the rear of the Shrine Auditorium, [the driver] Earl Midget insisted on using the pneumatic casket slider to get everybody out, and he did. Janice Joplin ran up to Nico and I screaming/laughing hysterically, taking us into the hall. Earl stood by in his white and gold suit, looking like the quiescently ’60s Undertaker.“We met up with Janice Joplin and the Holding Company as well Dr. Hook and the Medicine Show. A great concert!! I still can smell it today….Got back to Hollywood at 5:00 a.m., in time to have breakfast with a strange crew.”My art school friend worked for Nick Wilder for 10 years and wore a purple velvet suit back in those days, which he had bought at a cool clothing shop called DeVoss in London, England. Just after he bought the suit and returned to L.A., he received a call from DeVoss, saying there had been a mix-up — the suit Tom bought had the wrong pants; his belonged with the other suit. “Would you mind if we exchanged the pants?” Sure, Tom replied, asking who had bought the other suit. Brian Jones of The Rolling Stones, he was told.THE ESSENTIAL LOU REED tracks/videos:
Lou is best known for this 1972 song, Take a Walk on the Wild Side, produced by David Bowie; the video details the people named in the song who populated Andy Warhol‘s Factory art studio, where the Velvet Underground played at parties:Sweet Jane is still one of my favourites, defining that period of the Sixties. This video is a live performance directed by American artist/filmmaker Julian Schnabel: The gritty poetry of Heroin and another song from the same period, I’m Waiting for the Man, let us vicariously experience the New York streets/art scene. Here’s a a version of Heroin set to the video of Andy Warhol’s Screen Tests & Experimental Films:
Pale Blue Eyes showcased a softer side to Lou and the Velvet Underground as they broke free from Andy WarholA perfect song, a Perfect Day: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9wxI4KK9ZYo
The kinky Venus in Furs: Nico & the Velvets, circa 1972 doing Femme Fatal:
This is Lou’s 1978 mini rock opera, Street Hassle; the video uses Andy Warhol film footage & Bruce Springsteen adds a monologue around the nine-minute mark.
Lou and Davie Bowie perform Queen Bitch and Waiting for the Man at Bowie’s 50th birthday party in 1997 at Madison Square Garden; he introduces Lou as “the king of New York”:
Music critic Lester Bangs suggested playing this album, Metal Machine Music , was a sure-fire way to clear a room. Not an easy listen, but Lou sparked our interest in electronic music. This is a video by Laurie Anderson, performing her breakthrough 1981 avant-garde hit, O Superman:
This is Laurie’s 1985/86 concert performance, Home of the Brave:
Here’s a Charlie Rose interview with Laurie & Lou, who talks about how Andy Warhol influenced him, which continues in Part Two of the interview: And finally, here’s a film clip by Danish filmmaker Jørgen Leth of a young Andy Warhol eating a hamburger. And yes, it’s almost as mundane as it sounds, except for one revealing moment — at 3:25 watch Andy’s face as he sits silently for a minute before announcing, “Uh, my name is Andy Warhol and I just finished eating a hamburger.” It’s a bit blurry.
Postscript, July 2017: Two years after the death of her husband, Laurie Anderson wrote in the New York Times: “I learn from him every day now. I have since he died. Every single day I see something in my house that he put there for me, a note or a piece of paper or a book that he had written in, or one of his shirts. He’s very, very present for me. It’s not like, ‘Oh, my dead husband.’ ”
Another postscript October 2021: A new New York Times piece on Laurie Anderson October 2021.