In his rock and roll heart, Lou Reed was first, a storyteller. His songs were rockhard vignettes of New York street life. There were tales of choices made, good and bad, and remembrances of beauty found in the most unlikely of places. If you lived in the Village in the 70’s, you recognized some of the real players in his songs, like Rollerena, the ubiquitous drag queen on skates in the elegiac, “Halloween Parade”: “But there ain’t no Hairy and no Virgin Mary / You won’t hear those voice again / And Johnny Rio and Rotten Rita / You’ll never see those faces again.”
Sometimes you recognized yourself. Is there a romantic among us who doesn’t identify with the exquisite memory of lost love in Reed’s “Pale Blue Eyes”? “Thought of you as my mountain top / Thought of you as my peak / Thought of you as everything / I’ve had but couldn’t keep.”
It seems fitting that in memory of his passing, we return the favor, with stories of Lou Reed, as told by his admirers and our friends.
John Holstrom (editor, Punk magazine)
Lou was like my harshest critic. He would always be honest with me about what we were doing right, and wrong, at PUNK magazine. I always followed his advice. He was a great guy. He was like a mentor to me once I got involved in rock ‘n’ roll. I wish I had trusted and listened to him more, but people kept warning me about him. Thing is, the people who warned me about Lou were usually the worst people in the world, trying to screw me over. He was into video and video games before anyone else. We played video games on a his huge-screen TV in 1979. He was amazed when I beat him at an Atari game he thought he had mastered.
DeerFrance (musician, John Cale Band/Extra Virgin Mary)
When I worked the door at Max’s Kansas City ‘round 1973, I would give Lou his messages (he used the telephone at Max’s as his office). I was oft time on acid (still!). He would sidle up to me all black nails, paper thin, a cool coming off of him. Through my rose colored eyes he looked divine.
Scott Kempner (musician, The Dictators, Del-Lords)
We toured with Lou in the ’80s and I can tell you that although I am fully aware of all the negative stories out there about the man, I can honestly say I never once saw THAT Lou. To us, he was the sweetest, kindest, most stand-up guy I ever got to meet in this dirty business.
In 1986, Lou picked our record out of a stack of dozens given to him by our mutual booking agency and after listening to them all, he picked ours and invited us to be on his tour. He treated us like an gracious host would treat a dear friend, or an honored guest, the entire time. In all the years playing rock’n’roll, he stands apart in that regard.
Jeff Magnum (musician, Dead Boys)
In 1973, I was working at the Record Theater in Mentor, Ohio and I hadda work the morning shift with the classical record expert. He was a total prick and he really hated rock music except for the Velvet Underground and Lou Reed. One morning, “Berlin” arrived and we tore it open and played it. At the end of Side 2, we looked at each other and stared. We played that LP in the store all morning, and the only thing I had to say to him was, “That’s really good!”
One night in 1977, Lou Reed came to CBGBs to see the Dead Boys. I think he left after 3 songs. It’s safe to say that I was a bigger fan of his music than he was of ours.[Editor’s note: You don’t know that, Jeff!]
Richard Boch (artist, writer, and Mudd Club doorman from 1979-80)
I’m not sure if he arrived in a cab or just came walking down White Street, but despite his pedigree and the reputation, Lou Reed was easy. He stepped up to the chain, I said, “Hi” and he walked in. Ten minutes later, I went in to check on him and he was standing at the bar alone. Ten minutes later, he was gone. “Sweet Jane” — the live Rock ‘n’ Roll Animal version — was always a Mudd Club favorite.
Taxi Briell (original audio engineer, CBGBs)
Lou never played CBGB’s so I didn’t work with him. But when I was in high school my family didn’t have a stereo, so I bought a Heath Kit and built one. The first album I bought was the Velvet Underground & Nico at the Grand Union grocery store. I was probably the only person in my village who bought it.
Mary Huhn (journalist, NY Post)
I had some tough talks with Lou Reed — once, he nearly threw his publicist’s cell phone out the car window during an interview. But it didn’t bother me so much (it wasn’t personal). He was a survivor. From electric shock therapy to drugs and booze, and the Factory, he was a musician who should’ve died young. I was glad he hung around and found happiness with Laurie. He didn’t like to discuss himself or his songs but he liked taking about people he loved. Little Jimmy Scott. Victoria Williams. Edgar Allan Poe. And he was a geek about production. And once chatted about his equipment for a tour for 20 mins from his Chicago hotel room when he was packing. “You asked,” he said. I think he was happy to talk that day. He generally disliked journalists and didn’t treat them as writers or masters of a craft. Which wasn’t cool. But hell I didn’t write “Heroin” or “I’ll Be Your Mirror” or “Sunday Morning.” “Walk on the Wild Side” was the first 45 I ever bought and my friend first played “The Velvet Underground” for me in college (rather late, I was a senior) and then it changed my entire perception of what music could be and what I could be. Lou. Thanks for all that.
And then there are the photo ops for fans. From comedy writer Bonnie Datt, we got this one: “Lou Reed refusing to look up for a teenage Bonnie Datt’s camera at a record store signing in the 1980s.”
And from our Athens pal, Mark Bromberg, there is this: Me: “Look Lou, paparazzi.” Lou: “Here, wait til I put on my shades.” (Guaranteed verbatim dialogue, Atlanta 1985.)
Goodbye Lou, you will be missed.