David Byrne Remembers the 'Brave' Lou Reed

"His music, with and without the Velvets, was a big influence on myself and Talking Heads," Byrne tells Rolling Stone

Lou Reed
Richard Corkery/NY Daily News Archive via Getty Images
Lou Reed and David Byrne
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Memorials for Lou Reed, who died yesterday at age 71, continue to pour in. Talking Heads' founder David Byrne, one of the integral artists of the New York new wave/punk scene in the Seventies and Eigthies, has responded with a heartfelt memory of what the pioneering musician meant to him. Here's what he told Rolling Stone exclusively about the loss of Reed:

Look back at Lou Reed's remarkable career in photos

I just got an email from a Chilean actress who wrote what it meant to be able to hear Lou's work during the period of dictatorship there. A breath of life, she called it. That gives you some idea of how widespread and deep his influence was. 

No surprise I was a big fan, and his music, with and without the Velvets, was a big influence on myself and Talking Heads. He came to see us at CBGB numerous times, and I remember three of us going to visit him at his Upper East Side (!) apartment after one of our very early gigs there. 

Lou was talking a mile a minute and going through tubs of Haagen-Dazs ice cream while he suggested some variations and adjustments we might make to some of our songs. He began to play our song "Tentative Decisions" (a very Lou song title, no?) but he played it way slower than we were doing it. He was showing us how the song might be as a ballad — which made it more melancholic and elegaic than our bouncy version. It suddenly was of a piece with "Candy Says," "Some Kind of Love" or "Pale Blue Eyes." Of course we were in awe — here was one of our heroes playing one of our little songs. But by then it was the wee hours of the morning, dawn was coming, and we were all pretty spaced out — and we three probably had day jobs to get to at that point. 

I kept in touch with Lou over the years. We'd run into one another at concerts or at various NY cultural events and benefits. I remember how brave (and artistically successful) I thought Magic and Loss was . . . and how well his theatrical collaborations with Robert Wilsons' worked . . . and I knew what a convoluted process that could be, having done it myself twice.

More recently I'd see Lou and Laurie socially — we'd join mutual friends for dinner sometimes — and at concerts. He and Laurie never stopped checking out emerging artists, bands and all sorts of performances. That was, for me, inspirational as well. Lots of creative types retreat after they achieve a certain level of success or renown — Lou seemed to maintain his curiosity and willingness to take risks. 

His work and that of the Velvets was a big reason I moved to NY and I don't think I'm alone there. We wanted to be in a city that nurtured and fed that kind of talent. 

David Byrne Oct 28 2013