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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.


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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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.

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