Rolling Stone pays tribute to Lou Reed, the outsider who changed the course of rock & roll, on the cover of our new issue. In an exclusive essay for RS, Laurie Anderson reflects on her 21-year relationship with Reed and his final moments.
I met Lou in Munich, not New York. It was 1992, and we were both playing in John Zorn's Kristallnacht festival commemorating the Night of Broken Glass in 1938, which marked the beginning of the Holocaust. I remember looking at the rattled expressions on the customs officials' faces as a constant stream of Zorn's musicians came through customs all wearing bright red RHYTHM AND JEWS! T-shirts.
John wanted us all to meet one another and play with one another, as opposed to the usual "move-'em-in-and-out" festival mode. That was why Lou asked me to read something with his band. I did, and it was loud and intense and lots of fun. After the show, Lou said, "You did that exactly the way I do it!" Why he needed me to do what he could easily do was unclear, but this was definitely meant as a compliment.
I liked him right away, but I was surprised he didn't have an English accent. For some reason I thought the Velvet Underground were British, and I had only a vague idea what they did. (I know, I know.) I was from a different world. And all the worlds in New York around then – the fashion world, the art world, the literary world, the rock world, the financial world – were pretty provincial. Somewhat disdainful. Not yet wired together.
As it turned out, Lou and I didn't live far from each other in New York, and after the festival Lou suggested getting together. I think he liked it when I said, "Yes! Absolutely! I'm on tour, but when I get back – let's see, about four months from now – let's definitely get together." This went on for a while, and finally he asked if I wanted to go to the Audio Engineering Society Convention. I said I was going anyway and would meet him in Microphones. The AES Convention is the greatest and biggest place to geek out on new equipment, and we spent a happy afternoon looking at amps and cables and shop-talking electronics. I had no idea this was meant to be a date, but when we went for coffee after that, he said, "Would you like to see a movie?" Sure. "And then after that, dinner?" OK. "And then we can take a walk?" "Um . . ." From then on we were never really apart.
Lou and I played music together, became best friends and then soul mates, traveled, listened to and criticized each other's work, studied things together (butterfly hunting, meditation, kayaking). We made up ridiculous jokes; stopped smoking 20 times; fought; learned to hold our breath underwater; went to Africa; sang opera in elevators; made friends with unlikely people; followed each other on tour when we could; got a sweet piano-playing dog; shared a house that was separate from our own places; protected and loved each other. We were always seeing a lot of art and music and plays and shows, and I watched as he loved and appreciated other artists and musicians. He was always so generous. He knew how hard it was to do. We loved our life in the West Village and our friends; and in all, we did the best we could do.
Like many couples, we each constructed ways to be – strategies, and sometimes compromises, that would enable us to be part of a pair. Sometimes we lost a bit more than we were able to give, or gave up way too much, or felt abandoned. Sometimes we got really angry. But even when I was mad, I was never bored. We learned to forgive each other. And somehow, for 21 years, we tangled our minds and hearts together.
It was spring in 2008 when I was walking down a road in California feeling sorry for myself and talking on my cell with Lou. "There are so many things I've never done that I wanted to do," I said.
"You know, I never learned German, I never studied physics, I never got married."
"Why don't we get married?" he asked. "I'll meet you halfway. I'll come to Colorado. How about tomorrow?"
"Um – don't you think tomorrow is too soon?"
"No, I don't."
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