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Remembering Lou Reed: Tributes From Friends and Followers

Mick Jagger, David Byrne, Debbie Harry and more honor a rock icon

musician, Lou Reed, artist, Julian Schnabel, 'Berlin'

Musician Lou Reed (L) and artist Julian Schnabel after the screening of their film 'Berlin' on September 27th, 2007.

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He had style – that attitudinal New York hipster style. He was quite rude in interviews, but in person he was actually quite friendly – just not over-effusive. He wasn't a schmoozer, which was good. Everyone talks about punk, but to me he was the Johnny Cash of New York rock; he was always the man in black. I used to have him over occasionally in New York, and later he used to come and visit Mustique [in the West Indies], which is not the most obvious place for Lou Reed to go on vacation. Lots of posh English people. But when I would see him there, he still had that style going on.

The surprise for me was "Walk on the Wild Side." It was melodic, really good, very original, with the background singing and acoustic bass – an original way of presenting him. But "I'm Waiting for the Man" was my first big Lou Reed tune. I liked it because it was so minimalist in the arrangement and the chords – and the guitar sound on it was grunge before there was grunge, way back in 1967.

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Michael Stipe

Musically, Lou Reed was profoundly important, but there was another component to his public persona that cannot be overlooked: He was the first queer icon of the 21st century, 30 years before it even began.

As early as the late 1960s, Lou proclaimed with beautifully confusing candidness a much more 21st-century understanding of a fluid, moving sexuality. He saw beyond – and lived outside – a society locked into a simplistic straight/gay binary division. Through his public persona, his art and music, he boldly refused labels, very publicly mixing things up and providing a "Whoa, that's possible?" avenue of sexual exploration and identity examination, all with whip-smart nonchalance. He was indefinable, he was other, he was outside of society. He spearheaded a new cool, and he did not care if you "got it" or not. Lots of people did get it: Bowie, Iggy, the New York Dolls, Freddie Mercury and Queen, Elton John, Marc Bolan, Brian Eno and Roxy Music; and then punk rock, with Patti Smith, Television, the Damned, the Stranglers, the Sex Pistols; at the same time the Bee Gees, the Village People, Grace Jones; and through to Joy Division, the B-52s, Madonna, Prince, Culture Club, Depeche Mode, the Beastie Boys, the Smiths, R.E.M., the Replacements, Jane's Addiction, the Pixies, Nirvana, Björk, Antony and the Johnsons, Peaches, Scissor Sisters, Lady Gaga . . . every second, the list grows exponentially. Lou Reed was massively important to "Island of Misfit Toys" kids. Every single child of the 21st century who is not square owes him a moment of reflection and thanks.

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Metallica’s Lars Ulrich

Before Metallica played with Lou at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame [in 2009], I'd met him a couple times here and there, socially. I met him at one of the last places you would expect to meet Lou Reed — a Danish amusement park in Copenhagen. I was in there with my kids, and there he was with Laurie, eating a hot dog. It was like, "Oh my God, it's Lou Reed."

As we were leaving MSG after the Hall of Fame performance, he was literally like, "We have to make a record together." It was a little bit, "Okay, Lou. Cool. We're in the Yellow Pages. Call us." And then he fucking called, like two weeks later.

When we were making Lulu, he was very expressive. "I love that!" "I fucking love that!" "Oh, my God!" He would be yelling out and so excited. Being around this guy, I pinched myself a lot. We did a lot of interviews together for Lulu. When the cameras were off and there was nobody else there, he was like the gentlest soul. Almost like a child. Lou had been fucked over by a lot of people, so he built up a barrier to most people to not get hurt or get fucked over again. And once he realized you weren't going to hurt him, he was the sweetest man. He would text me stuff like "I love you, buddy."  

He will always be remembered for where he took his lyrics and for the simplicity. But what I could relate to the most is that he was the ultimate outsider. Lou never belonged to really anything other than himself. He never felt like he owed anybody anything. That was why we really ultimately what we identified with because we've always felt like outsiders. Every fucking record he made was different. And every fucking experiment he did he did for nothing else. He just wanted to. And that's the greatest inspiration for us for all of those great years and just being around the absolute definition of autonomy. Put that in your Google dictionary for "autonomy."

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Thurston Moore

He was always the one — the primal and primordial aspect of what was happening on the margins of music, which was more valuable than what was in the center of music. I owe everything in my devotion and vocation in rock & roll to him. When I was old enough to buy records, when I was 14 or something, you would see albums in the cut-out bins that the labels couldn't sell, and kids like me, who didn't have much coin, would buy those weird records. And they really informed us.

I remember buying the banana album [Velvet Underground & Nico] there. I'd been reading about them in Creem magazine and wondered exactly what they sounded like. Then I bought White Light/White Heat next and I was like, "Oh, my God — who let this happen?" Rock 'n' Roll Animal was huge for me. It was such a smart record, to take this material that came out of the John Cage-LaMonte Young school and have these Detroit rock guys shred on it. I saw him in concert for the first time in 1976, when I was 18 or 19, where he had all these black-and-white TVs behind him. Halfway through he came to the front of the stage and sat down and sang Berlin songs, and my friends and I ran down and knelt down before him.

When we started Sonic Youth, I knew I was not a singer with any real dynamic range, and it was really instructive to hear a singer like Lou with his alliteration. The words were so pronounced, and I liked the idea of someone coming out of literature. For me, he was an early calling card to New York and how to be an artist. He was like the Empire State Building to me.

I had a nice evening with him once when the two of us watched a rough cut of The Basketball Diaries; there was maybe some thought of us doing music for it at the time. I was sitting on a couch at someone's house in between Lou and Jim Carroll. Lou thought the movie was ridiculous. He said to Jim, "You know, that whole scene of leather-clad Christopher Street guys on the subway — that was the corniest thing I ever saw. You gotta get rid of that. You gotta get rid of all the dialogue. It should be just you reading your book." And I'm sitting there like, "I don't think the Hollywood studios are going to go for that idea." But it was interesting. He had that kind of force field against reality, and to see that was amusing.

He was always very guarded, which I thought was understandable. He didn't seem like somebody too interested in making new friends just for the social sake of it. But the whole mythos of Lou as a monster is completely uninteresting to me. I was at South by Southwest in 2008, playing at a Lou Reed appreciation concert. I'd just heard "I'm Not a Young Man Anymore," which had just surfaced on a Velvet Underground bootleg. It was this powerful song I'd never heard before. Before we went on, I was talking to Lou and told him about it and he said, "How the hell do you know about that song?" I said, "It just surfaced on a bootleg on the Internet." I said I thought it would be a good song to play since I just turned 50. And when I said that, he looked at me, half smiled and embraced me. It was wonderful and completely unexpected.

For me, his passing is as significant as anyone's. He's probably the only musician from my youth who continued to be an inspiration to me It seemed bittersweet that he died on a Sunday, when one of the most beautiful compositions he ever wrote was "Sunday Morning."

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David Byrne

I just got an e-mail 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.

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. And 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 maintained his curiosity and willingness to take risks.

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Beck

When I heard the first Velvet Underground record, I was 13 or 14, and it really struck me intensely. When I heard "Venus in Furs," I'd never heard anything like it. It was like hearing something I'd always wanted to hear. It felt so modern – I had to look at the back of the record to make sure it wasn't a newer band. The sound was really dirty, much more primal than other bands from that era. The sweetness of the melodies and the songwriting, juxtaposed with this brutal sound, completely turned a light on for me.

After that, I don't think I listened to any pop music for another 15 years. The Velvet Underground just eclipsed everything for a long time for me – it became the thing that I measured other music by. Lou Reed and the Velvets were so formative for that whole era of bands that came out in the Eighties and Nineties, bands like the Pixies and Sonic Youth and Jesus and Mary Chain and Pavement and Yo La Tengo. I don't know what you would call the genre that I'm in, but the Velvet Underground really define it – they're the blueprint for that entire kind of music. The idea that you could play folk or country or guitar feedback or Brill Building pop, and you didn't have to be authentic or quote-unquote real, was so liberating.

They were the coolest-looking band. I remember seeing a picture in a magazine where Lou had the wrap-around shades and the haircut and the boots. I think any kid who runs across something like that wishes they'd been around for it, you know? The really strange thing was, when my mother saw that I was listening to their record incessantly, she mentioned that she knew them – she had had some interaction with the Factory scene when she was growing up in the Village, and she claimed to have danced onstage at some of their early shows. I had no idea! But there wasn't a lot of information about the Velvets back then. Later on, I was shocked to meet other people who had heard of them.

I've been playing Lou Reed's songs since I first picked up the guitar. They can be so simple and perfect, and they can just cut you to the bone, but he never reduced it to sentimentality or cliché. He had that conversational style that's really not easy to do. There was just nothing cooler than that to me. I never get tired of playing his songs; it always works.

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Metric’s Emily Haines

When Lou Reed asked me, "Emily Haines, who would you rather be, the Beatles or the Rolling Stones," I shot back, "The Velvet Underground." Quick thinking, sure, but also the truth. In our song "Gimme Sympathy," we lament the fact that none of us living today are likely to achieve the stature or saturation the signature acts of that era enjoyed. But for me none of that music comes close to the contribution Lou Reed has made to the world. It's immeasurable. Famously cranky, his integrity is unrivaled. He irritated everyone with difficult music. He refused to spend his life re-writing "Walk on the Wild Side," effectively sparing himself a lifetime of boring conversations with fools. Anyone who couldn't see that his tough exterior was an essential shield for the man who gave us "Pale Blue Eyes," with all its intimacy and relatable sadness, has missed the point of his life completely.

I'm not one to proclaim fated encounters, but it seems as though everyone I know who had the power to bring Lou and me together used it to make it happen. A strange combination of forces channeled Hal Willner through Kevin Drew through Kevin Hearn through Neil Young's "A Man Needs a Maid" and that was that. When we finally did meet, it was obvious and easy, like an idea that's been floating around for years and then one day emerges effortlessly, fully formed. Our connection was free of the fawning fandom and nauseating idolatry that so often characterizes such show biz interactions between a young woman and an older man. He was never condescending. I didn't worship him. We talked about my late father Paul Haines' recordings of Albert Ayler, we talked about Escalator Over the Hill, we talked about Roswell Rudd and Henry Grimes. This thin man with gold teeth and clear engaging eyes was a thrill to be with, and his barbed wire wit made hanging with him like a tightrope walk. You couldn't drift.

People always seemed afraid to be straight with Lou but I wasn't. At the rehearsal for our performance at Vivid Festival at the Sydney Opera House in 2010 (an event he curated with Laurie Anderson), he couldn't remember the guitar part for "Cremation," the song he wanted me to sing with him. I said, "You have to remember. You have to play the guitar," and the room fell silent as though I had hit the height of blasphemy. But he just looked at me and said, "You're right."

Persuading him to play "Pale Blue Eyes" when he joined Metric onstage for "The Wanderlust" at Radio City Music Hall in 2012 required a more nuanced approach and I'll always remember the golden look of approval he gave our guitarist, Jimmy Shaw, when he played that delicate guitar line onstage that night.

An essential thing people seem to miss when they think of Lou Reed is the scope of his sense of humor. When he invited me to play with him at the Shel Silverstein tribute concert in Central Park in 2011, I was the straight man, backing him up on piano and vocals as he turned the song "25 Minutes to Go" into a roast of Mayor Bloomberg's New York for billionaires.

Kevin Hearn has played in Lou Reed's band for years. Hearn and I have been working on some new recordings of my songs, just vocals and piano. A survivor of blood cancer himself, Kevin visited Lou and Laurie many times throughout Lou's treatment in Cleveland. It appeared for a while there that Lou was on the mend, but in recent weeks his condition declined. When Lou called for him a few days ago, Kevin feared the worst.  He wrote to me late last night, "I went to see Lou in Cleveland. He had to go back in the hospital. He is not doing too well I'm sad to say. Laurie was there too. They asked what I have been up to and I told them about the songs. They wanted to hear something so I played them 'Dedicated.' I hope you don't mind. They really liked it." I fell asleep last night hoping my voice had been of some comfort to him. And when I woke up, I found out he was dead.

The first time I sang "Perfect Day" for him, Lou said, "You have to bring more pain to it. You're not singing about a fucking picnic." Consider it done.

Playing "Cremation" with Lou was heavy enough at the time, but now that he's gone the lyrics just break my heart. "The coal black sea waits for me me me/ the coal black sea waits forever/ when I leave this joint/ at some further point/ the same coal black sea/ will it be waiting?"

In his last message to me, Lou wrote, "I'm so sorry Emily I would've if I could have but I'm a little under the weather but I love you."

I love you, too.

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Dion DiMucci

It's a funny thing with Lou Reed, some things stick out in your mind. I was having lunch with him once and he blurted out, "The only fear I have is living in suburbia." It struck me as so damn funny that that was his only fear. People have called Lou a difficult guy, but with me, he was so respectful, almost concerned about stuff he might say, like he would offend me. He treated me with such respect. He was so humble around me, and so sweet. I hate to be uncool about it, but, but there was great love there.

In the late Eighties, I was recording in the same studio he was doing New York. I walked in when he was doing "Dirty Blvd." He said, "Go in. See if you can do something in the end." And I sang something. And he said, "That's it!" I never had to sing it again.

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Debbie Harry

The first time I met Lou was in the mid-Sixties. The Velvet Underground was performing at a place on St. Mark's Place called the Balloon Farm, which changed its named to the Electric Circus. I was very shy and sort of a newbie on the scene and I was just there, all big eyes, looking at everything. They were playing and Andy had designed the lights and it was mind-blowing. What a great show that was.

Of course I fell madly, madly in love with them and Lou. He was talking about his life and his experiences in a very frank way and a lifestyle that was unique at the time. He wasn't afraid to be dark and imposing.

I was living at home for a while and I would put on White Light/White Heat and it would send me mother over the edge. I always thought that that was a good sign.

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Sam Shephard

In the Sixties, I was in a band called the Holy Modal Rounders, and we opened for the Velvet Underground in Boston. Nico was there. They had that incredible sound with Cale fucking up the viola over the top. Remember that first album, with the shattering glass coming down in "European Son"? It sounds like a windowpane crashing. The Rolling Stones didn't do anything like that! That was a hell of a band. My band's drug of choice was crystal meth, but the Velvets were talking about heroin!

Lou was an extraordinary lyricist. His lyrics were an incredible combination of imagery and hieroglyphics. "The people all call her Alaska/Between worlds because the people ask her/'Cause it's all in her mind" – one of the great lines. Or that line in "Sweet Jane": "Everyone who ever had a heart/Oh, they wouldn't turn around and break it/And anyone who ever played a part/Oh, they wouldn't turn around and hate it." Wow! He was writing in the present, from his own experience, sort of like David Foster Wallace, the kind of writer who comes from an angle no one else would think of.

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Julian Schnabel

I think he never felt quite satisfied. He felt vindicated by the 2006 live revival of Berlin a few years ago, but a few days before his death we were watching the movie we made of that, and he said, "Does anybody know?" He never felt like people really got it. He always felt, in a way, unappreciated, which is crazy. He wrote lyrics and talked about things that just were so specific, and of a world of emotions that hadn't really been included in rock & roll songs.

Somebody said the Velvet Underground had only a few thousand fans, but they all started bands. When you really hear Lou's voice and you think of punk-rock music and you think of what happened – he opened up the floodgates, the door where that gritty reality could be displayed.

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Salman Rushdie

When I was at college at Cambridge in the mid-Sixties, my favorite bands were the Velvet Underground and Captain Beefheart. I had a friend whose father was very involved in radio stations in England, and he would come back from London with all the latest kind of weirdo fringe records. I thought the Velvets were so badass. They were evil, in a good way. They didn't give a damn about anything, and they were talking about forbidden stuff, and that New York underground world seemed very glamorous to me as a British-based college student. I think the volume sometimes bugged my roommates. I really liked the collaboration with Nico, especially "I'll Be Your Mirror"; I thought that version was kind of magical and I fell in love with that.

I got to know Laurie Anderson in the early Eighties, and she was in England and friends of mine knew her and I was introduced to her and we became friends. We were having dinner at a friend's house, and I don't know how the subject of Lou came up, but I said something along the lines of how much his music has meant to me, and she said, "Well, that's good because I'm seeing him now." And I thought, A, it was a surprise and, B, thank goodness I said the right thing. She called him from this dinner in London and put us on the phone together. She said, "I've got someone here and he really likes your music, you should say hello." So, we said hello. And not a whole lot more, but I think I was stammering incoherently at the time. It was like having God's unlisted cell phone number.

A lot of Lou's stuff stands up very well with words without the music because his imagination is so genuinely strange. He never reaches for an obvious simile, he never says anything banal, and yet the language is not particularly complex. And that's a remarkable skill, to be able to be fresh and vivid and alive without going into linguistic complexity. I was listening to  "New York Telephone Conversation" from Transformer. It's kind of slightly camp, and his voice, the way in which he delivers it, is done in a very kind of gossipy, kind of couple of old bitches talking to each other cattily almost. He characterizes in his own voice. I love that conversational thing — it's very hard to do.

My memories of Lou are these very kind of eccentric, non-Lou Reed kind of memories. He was very enjoyable company, one of the people I most liked hanging out with. We just did crazy things. I got a call from a mutual friend who said, "Lou wants to go see Pee Wee Herman's show on Broadway for a Christmas treat." We all went to see it, and Lou just had a ball. He really enjoyed it and went back afterwards and had pictures taken with Pee-Wee. I don't know who was the bigger fan, but I guess they were both fans of each other. One night in Brooklyn, Lou and Laurie and my artist friend Tony Fitzpatrick had one of the funniest dinners of my life at Peter Luger's restaurant, where Lou revealed an almost bottomless well of dirty jokes. He spent the evening telling them, and they were really very good. And I thought, "Who knew? I'm sitting with Lou Reed and he's got blue material."

The Lou Reed of these later years was doing Tai Chai and being a vegan and was very different from that early Lou Reed. Despite this ferocious exterior, in his private life amongst the people he cared about, Lou was really sweet and had a real gentleness. It got to the point where if we didn't speak to each other for a few weeks, he'd complain. He'd say, "So you don't like me anymore, you don't write, you don't call." And I thought, "Who would ever think that Lou Reed was like that, so caring of his friends, so wanting to be in touch with them that if they didn't call every week, he was upset?" The stuff people say about Lou, there was that side to him. But there was also this much quieter, more reflective or thoughtful side.

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Martin Scorsese

Lou Reed was the sound of New York from the Sixties through the Eighties, and if you want to know what it was like to live here during those years, just listen to his records with the Velvet Underground and on his own — songs like "I'm Waiting for the Man" and "Sweet Jane" and "Coney Island Baby" and "Street Hassle" and "Dirty Boulevard" will give you a more vivid picture of this city than all the articles in all the daily papers. And in his greatest songs, like "Heroin" or "Ocean," he touched on the eternal. He was a great, great artist, and a true prince of the city. His work had a big influence on me.

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Bryan Ferry

I have long admired Lou Reed as a writer, singer and consummate musician. A pioneer as much as a perfectionist, his work with the Velvet Underground was a significant influence on early Roxy Music — bringing together the worlds of rock & roll and avant garde art in a way that we all admired, and which seemed so modern, uncompromising and cool. As a solo artist, too, I think that Reed had a wonderful talent for combining the energy of rock music with a truly literary sensibility. His best lyrics had the impact of great fiction, telling a story in a wry, sharp yet deeply-felt way — very much a New York City voice. Like all major artists, he was also totally fearless in exploring new and challenging forms and ideas, regardless of critical or public expectations. He ranks with Hendrix and Dylan as an artist who has shaped the course of modern music and social attitudes in a profound way.

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Phoenix’s Thomas Mars

Lou Reed is a huge deal in France. There was a freedom in his behavior and his music that was appealing to French people – and especially to a teenager. When I was growing up in Versailles, I identified with him even more than I did with Iggy Pop or David Bowie. His songs were like little jewels, perfect for a kid to digest. They had everything: all the anxiety and darkness, and all the sweetness, too. That's what I loved. I started listening to the sweet songs first: "Pale Blue Eyes," "Ocean," "New Age." Later, I discovered "Street Hustle," and it was like a miracle. I'd play it over and over, and I never got bored. He created this universe that I wanted to be part of.

One of my favorite quotes is from the painter Ed Ruscha: "Good art should elicit a response of 'Huh?. . .Wow!'" That's what I got from the Velvet Underground, from the first time I saw the banana on their record cover when I was a kid. And that's what Lou Reed's live shows were like. They were art projects. Each time he came onstage, it was a real gamble, you know? He wasn't scared of not giving a crowd what they wanted. You had to pass that first question – that first "Huh?" – to be part of the club. I was so amazed by that. He was a tremendous guitar player, but he didn't show it; he made it feel like it was nothing. He broke all the codes, everything that a rock band was supposed to do. You felt like he could do anything, and it would be right.

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Albert Hammond Jr.

I remember listening to Loaded with Julian Casablancas at our apartment on 18th Street over and over again. It was the spark that started the Strokes. We wanted to get that warm sound, that vibe. Lou was talking about reality in a way that made us think we could too. He was talking about sex and drugs and real life; it had a huge effect on Julian's lyrics.

In our early days, we kept running into Lou. Once he was doing a book signing at Barnes & Noble, and Julian and I went. We argued about who would go up to him; finally, Julian asked, "Can I get this signed?" Lou looked around, and there was no pen, and he said, "What, am I going to do it with my own blood?" – it was condescending, but it was so awesome.

Later, we heard Lou liked our music; we did "Walk on the Wild Side" with him at Rolling Stone's 1,000th-issue party in 2006. We walked offstage, he was getting emotional; he was very moved by it. It was such a great feeling. It gives me goose bumps talking about it now.

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Billy Idol

In punk rock, we were disaffected from everything, but we felt a connection with Lou. Rock 'n' Roll Animal really showed me you could be a punk rock singer — just make sure you have a fantastic guitar player! And a lot of his songs they weren't those Beatles jazz chords. They were accessible to someone like me. I'm not the greatest musician and certainly not the greatest guitar player or singer either. But I could play "Sweet Jane" or "I'm Set Free." When Generation X was coming together, the first song Tony James and I played together at my house was "Coney Island Baby." Just two chords! 

In 1981, I was in New York looking around for people to write with. I wasn't quite sure what I was doing, but I had a meeting with Lou at John's Pizza on Bleecker Street, his favorite pizza place. It was lunch time and it was very dark and he was sitting there in a corner booth and he said, "Well, how are you gettin' along in New York?"

He didn't have to give me that time at all; he probably vague knew who I was. Later I did a dance music cover of "Heroin" — why, I don't know, it could have been the ecstasy. And Lou was really nice and cut his rate for me. And I thought, "Well, that's a bit of a sign that he enjoyed meeting me." He had that tough exterior, but you knew there was a heart of gold there.

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Tony Visconti

The Velvet Underground just blew me away.

There was so much myth attached to the band. I heard if you peeled the banana off there was LSD under it. I guess that you'd call it now a buzz band, but there was nothing like it in those days. Nobody was buzzing about any band until the Velvet Underground came around.

When I went to London and met David Bowie, he was a bigger Velvet Underground fan than I was. David's biggest homage to Lou was when he found Lou. He literally searched for him and found him and made Transformer. It was one of the most wonderful things to happen to the both of them at the time.

I wasn't surprised at all that "Walk on the Wild Side" got so big. When I heard it I thought it was a smash hit. I never heard anything like it. What was funny is that he's talking about transvestites and giving head and changing clothes on the bus, and they're playing this for kids on BBC radio. I thought it was hilarious. Like Lou Reed and the Velvet Underground in the 1960s, we were getting away with murder.

He borrowed David's sound for "Walk on the Wild Side." David is very much responsible for that and anything else that came off that album. David had the hit song mentality, which Lou never really cared about in a big way. Lou always considered himself a very serious poet, a very serious artist. I don't think that wealth was his goal, or worldwide popularity. He just wanted to do what he did. His output from that point on was extremely diverse. Like the Beatles, he kept changing styles. He experimented with a lot of forms of music that wasn't very commercial. 

I had seen Lou hundreds of times in the past 10 years, mainly almost every Sunday in New York City at our Sunday tai chi class. We had people from all walks of life in our class, a banker, a plumber, a construction worker, a Japanese translator . . . all these varied people from all walks of life, and Lou was just one of us. Afterward sometimes as many of 12 of us went out for brunch right after class and Lou was right there sitting in the middle of it. It was wonderful. To know him on that level was just incredible. I can't tell you how serious he was about it. He was one of the most serious people I know about studying some arcane subject like that.

Lou was very social and went out a lot. He had a lot of very close friends, like Julian Schnabel and Richard Belzer from Law and Order. They were his very serious friends, and he saw David Bowie from time to time, and myself. I went over to Lou's house quite a bit. We'd go to shows together and I'd see him quite a bit at gallery openings and the openings of Broadway shows. He didn't just stay at home and do nothing. He was very active. 

I last saw him three weeks ago at a Mick Rock book signing at the CBGB place, the John Varvatos store. I wrote to Lou the night before and said, "Can you let me in?" His last e-mail to me, was, "I try." It was a joke. Instead of "I'll try" it was "I try." There was nothing wrong with his grammar, believe me. He got me in and we were very close to the front. I waved to him. It was the last time I saw him.

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Chris Stein

I opened up for Lou in 1967 with my little band from Brooklyn. It was a place on the Upper West Side called the Gymnasium, which was a gym in like a high school or an apartment building or something like that. I'd only seen a handful of electric bands at that time and we're in this big echoey fucking gymnasium and those guys came on and they used echoes and feedback and the reverb of the room was part of their sound. And that was a big clicking moment for me.

The first album coming in the midst of flower power the way it did was phenomenal. Here's this dark brooding thing in the midst of all this cheery shit. How many people had that much impact on popular music? Dylan and Lou and Bowie maybe. He shaped a whole generation of popular music. I went to dinner with him a couple of times, went to a pizza place with him and he was very funny. He was always really super nice to me. The guy was just a shaper of so much music.

In This Article: Lou Reed

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