(Author’s note: I wrote this in the Amtrak waiting room at Penn Station, New York City around 1 AM or so. It is closing in on 3 AM and the train is a rolling back to Boston.) What an extraordinary night in Harlem. You could feel Lou’s presence there. “Up to Lexington – 1-2-5- Poor, sick and dirty, more dead than alive: I’m waiting for my man.” The Apollo Theater is on 125st Street. 1-2-5 from the song “Waiting for the Man”. The respect given to the life of Lou Reed at the Apollo Theater on Monday, December 16, 2013, was the kind of solemn tribute the gifted poet / musician deserved. Reed’s wife, Laurie Anderson, and his sister Bunny gave a rare glimpse into the deeply personal side that the rock singer kept from his vast fan base, understandably so.
With his passing those who appreciate Lou Reed the man were granted access to private photographs and performances dating back to when a young seven or so year old Louis Reed performed into a tape recorder “Santa Claus is Coming to Town.” There was also an audio of Lou performing “Heroin” at the Pickwick studios prior to its release on Verve Records’ The Velvet Underground and Nico. The earlier rendition is a revelation.
Reed’s wit and charm and genius were highlighted, a touching letter from Velvet Underground co-founder John Cale read by drummer Moe Tucker was to the point and sincere, Tucker adding her own sense of loss in a touching and heartfelt way.
A bit of mystery surrounded the event, attendees not knowing what kind of memorial / tribute would be presented. A film clip of Reed as A & R man producing a character played by Paul Simon in the film One Trick Pony brought Simon himself out to sing Reed’s “Pale Blue Eyes.” That was after Patti Smith gave an entirely magical reading of “Perfect Day” – truly the feminine doppelganger to Reed’s artistry. Her voice, the emotion and Lenny Kaye’s loyal guitar playing were as respectful as a clearly honored Debbie Harry giving a striking …actually thrilling …”White Light/White Heat.” If you’re not supposed to let your hair down at a memorial, it was hard to resist with Maureen Tucker drumming on “All Tomorrow’s Parties.” The concluding number, – “Sister Ray” – was an all-out party with most of the performers dancing to Patti Smith and original drummer Moe Tucker leading the charge on one of the most perverted and degenerate compositions in the history of rock music. To see the rabbi, Lou’s surgeon and his Tai Chi master friend all dancing onstage to this song of debauchery, drug abuse, murder and mayhem was as stark as the Sisters of St. Joseph back in the 1960s smiling and clapping to The Kingsmen’s “Louie, Louie” – unaware that the FBI itself was investigating the record for allegedly obscene lyrics.
One doesn’t think of William Dafoe as being in the Lou Reed camp, but there he was an aisle across from ours, as was a woman who resembled Yoko Ono with an escort who appeared more like a bodyguard than collector of Peel Slowly and See. Stargazing was not the order of the night, the star of the show was Lou Reed and Mrs. Reed, Laurie Anderson, showed impeccable taste in choosing the video clips and filmed anecdotes. The program lasted about three and a half hours and it was impossible not to let the tears well up when the sincerity of the speakers touched on all the reasons why we love Lou. But Anderson, perhaps sensing sadness from the audience, told us that tears are something which confuse the deceased This was a celebration of Lou’s life, and in that spirit those in attendance were able to appreciate the huge and important body of work.
Anderson waited 50 days before bringing friends of her husband’s together, and it was cathartic for those of us who loved the man and his music, no doubt her intent. Hopefully we gave some comfort to his family and close friends seeing the devoted turning out for Lou in death as we did for him in life.
Joe Viglione is the Chief Film Critic at TMRZoo.com. He has written thousands of reviews and biographies for AllMovie.com, Allmusic.com, Gatehouse Media, Al Aronowitz’s The Blacklisted Journal, and a variety of other media outlets. Joe also produces and hosts Visual Radio, a seventeen year old variety show on cable TV which has interviewed Jodie Foster, director/screenwriter David Koepp, Michael Moore, John Cena, comics/actors Margaret Cho, Gilbert Gottfried, Gallagher, musicians Mark Farner and Don Brewer of Grand Funk Railroad, Ian Hunter of Mott The Hoople, Ray Manzarek, John Densmore, Felix Cavaliere of The Rascals, political commentator Bill Press and hundreds of other personalities.