There’s a horribly intangible thing that happens when someone you worship, but never knew, dies. You don’t know how exactly to mourn – it’s not like you met this person, held the same blood line, shared a kiss or any of that. But you hurt. Not the same hurt, but a restless, terrible, necrotic hole that deepens and widens with every ticking second; an emptiness that feels only somewhat reciprocated by repeated spins of a record or maybe a knowing nod from a stranger at a bar, when a certain song comes on the jukebox. This is how I felt yesterday about the death of Lou Reed. Fucking Lou Reed, god of New York; my own god, god of street kids and club kids and rich kids and drugged kids, god of all of us, of sidewalks and art and lyric and music sung the way he wanted to. God of rock and roll, the dirty kind that slinks in your ears covered in cigarette ash, smelling of old leather and horrible hangovers and sticky black eyeliner. Lou Reed made it possible to breathe and not feel like it was all stale air.
Like many things in life, my brother introduced me to the Velvet Underground, and Lou fueled my high school years and beyond. After college, I lived for two years at 56 Ludlow, a five-story building on the Lower East Side of Manhattan near Chinatown, which was once home to John Cale. The apartment was fairly decent by New York standards, save for the fact that it was on the top floor, and there was no elevator, and they were extra long flights. It was more than we could afford, a little further from work than we wanted and probably an illegal sublet (we had to split some of the bills with our landlord who lived next door, because our apartment number didn’t actually exist according to Con Edison) but it was worth it to live in the place where the Velvet Underground recorded the first version of “All Tomorrows Parties” and Lou Reed, my ultimate NYC rock and roll icon, walked the same shitty long staircase. I’d stare out my window facing the alley, wondering what the building sounded like when those dissonant chords first hit the walls. Did you feel it in your gut? Could I still feel it, hear it, if I listened hard enough? Surely some of those piano taps got hidden in the air ducts, strange and echoing hard.
There are few better sounds in life than Lou Reed’s rock and roll, than his restless city poetry smashed to life with guitars and screeching voilas and a madness only born amongst skyscrapers and sidewalks – this was music made in New York, in the old New York that didn’t match the one I was born into but I sure as hell dreamed about daily. My life changed when I heard “Heroin” and “Sunday Morning” and “Mirror.” “Pale Blue Eyes” made me cry and still does, each and every time – how can a man tap into such rawness, such chugging angst as “Waiting for the Man” and the same time pen lyrics like “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”? This was rock music in a way I’d never imagined, hard, soft, dissonant, jazz, avant-guarde, fueled by art and youth and brains and drugs. I wanted to be Nico. I wanted to be the girl amongst the music, with black lids and a voice, however small, banging a tambourine to genius guitar – thump, thump, thump against my thigh, shrouded in leather, black of course. Lou Reed was cool, when being cool meant something; inventive when that meant something. He fucked with art and fame and music before Lady Gaga tried to commodify it, he made it ok to sing softy one moment and screech the next. He played with music, he pushed it. But it was always rock and roll.
To be brutally honest with all of you, I have been missing New York. Not in the I-want-to-return-Dorothy-clicking-heels kind of way, but in a way like the way a car needs servicing: I need a little dose of the city to tune things up, refuel a little, add a little oil under the hood in the form of pizza, late night sushi, friends on Avenue A and Bedford and shivering on street corners. The death of Lou Reed kicked me in the gut, exactly where whatever kind of homesickness I had was living. I wanted to be back at 56 Ludlow, sitting on the one little step outside, listening to Lou on my headphones, my feet hurting from walking over bridges and fingers hurting from the cold. With Lou Reed dying so dies a part of New York. So dies a part of me. A part of you.
But like Nashville can do, it picked me up again: after several frantic texts between Emily and I set to tears, I emailed the good folks at the Stone Fox to see if they might like to house a tribute with us, and in two seconds they wrote back and agreed, with the same exact enthusiasm. In less than 24 hours, we had a lineup: The Weeks, Escondido, Twiggs, Diamond Carter and more amazing bands to be announced, on November 11th. And that’s how I’m going to deal with this intangible pain – by listening to great Lou songs sung by Nashville’s finest. Music is the only way to deal with this that I know. And alcohol, I guess. The info is here.
The last I saw Lou was on stage with Bright Eyes in New York. I don’t have a photo, my phone only made calls back then. I left that night dizzy and buzzing and riding the subway home from Town Hall, ecstatic and ready to look for more trouble in the New York night, the good kind of trouble, the kind that makes poetry and song and people like Lou Reed, and that memory lingers on, even without a digital imprint that I can carry in my palm.
So linger on, Lou.