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In Writing

Lou Reed 1942–2013: Byron Coley: Lou Reed Is Dead

November 2013

Lou Reed died on 27 October, 2013. “Whatever you do, don’t talk to Lou.” Byron Coley ignores a warning.

The last time I saw Lou Reed, he was playing at a benefit for The Fugs’ Tuli Kupferberg at St Ann’s in Brooklyn. He had a quartet with John Zorn and Laurie Anderson, they whipped it out hard, and I was duly impressed. I was only there because some musician friends had forgotten stuff they needed to play the event and asked if I could drive it down from their house. So I showed up and delivered the package, and was thinking I’d probably have to split, but then I ran into Hal Willner, who had organised the concert, and he asked me to stay, despite the fact press was banned that evening.

The backstage area was a huge curtained off parcel to the left side of the stage, and I was free to wander around, although two of the staffers made sure to give me the same warning, “Whatever you do, don’t talk to Lou.” Seemed easy enough. I watched the concert and hung out. Then at one point I realised Lou was standing right in front of me, watching whatever was going on onstage. When the set was finished he turned around and asked me what time it was. I told him, and he replied “Thank you” in a very polite way. Luckily, the staffers did not notice.

The only other times I ever remember talking to Lou were in the mid-1970s in New York City, when I’d see him in the audience at a show somewhere and start blabbering about how great I thought Berlin or Metal Machine Music was. I can’t remember him ever doing much more than staring at me and my pals and shaking his head or something. But I’ve sometimes wondered why – drunken teenaged wise guy that I was – I never told him I found his 1976 album, Rock And Roll Heart, the single most disappointing record I’d ever heard. Or that the concert tour accompanying it was an absolute piece of shit. I can only suppose – even at that tender age – I found these failures so outweighed by triumphs I realised they didn’t much matter in the final scheme of things. And indeed they don’t. Lou Reed produced what can generously be described as an inconsistent body of work. But as he wrote in the sleevenotes to MMM: “My week beats your year.” Any single side of one of Lou’s best albums would have been enough to ensure his place as a legendary writer and performer. Who could ask for more?

Consistency, after all, is for squares.


Rock and Roll Heart was indeed a disappointment, I remember getting it when it came out and after Coney island Baby it seemed oddly amateurish (in a bad way) and lifeless. BUT, "Temporary Thing" is a great Lou Reed song. And Garland Jeffreys sang backup on "You Wear It So Well" - two consolation prizes. Lou Reed could be astonishingly great and infuriatingly bad. But the greatness obviated the badness. And life, "It's just a temporary thing." The best of his work lives forever.

I feel like the key jam on Rock and Roll Heart is Temporary Thing. Except the album version is super muddy. The remastered version on The Essential Lou Reed is gorgeous - spaced out and gospelly, almost like a Spiritualized tune.

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