New York City always loomed large in the works of the late Lou Reed. So it was only appropriate that New Yorkers paid their respects to the legend, who died on October 27th, at a public memorial held on Thursday afternoon near Lincoln Center’s Paul Milstein Pool and Terrace. The event, billed as “New York: Lou Reed at Lincoln Center,” was announced Tuesday on Reed’s Facebook page as “a gathering open to the public – no speeches, no live performances, just Lou’s voice, guitar music & songs – playing the recordings selected by his family and friends.”
It took place exactly as advertised, as Reed’s songs were heard through several loudspeakers spread across the plaza, making for a heady, sonic experience. The three-hour memorial got off to a rocking start with blaring electric guitar and thunderous drumming that introduced the turbulent title track from Reed’s 1982 album The Blue Mask.
The playlist drew from the many high points of Reed’s musical career spanning the last 45 years as both a member of the Velvet Underground and as a solo artist. “Sally Can’t Dance,” “Femme Fatale,” “Heroin,” “I’m Waiting for the Man,” “Waves of Fear,” “Sunday Morning,” “I Love You, Suzanne,” “Pale Blue Eyes,” “Dirty Blvd.” and “Sweet Jane” were just some of the many songs played.
The program built to a climax with the gloriously noisy epic “Sister Ray,” off the Velvet Underground album White Light/White Heat and followed by the touching “Think It Over,” Reed’s signature solo hit “Walk on the Wild Side,” “All Tomorrow’s Parties” and the defiantly rocking “Set the Twilight Reeling.” The event concluded with one more blast of noise — a portion of Reed’s infamous 1975 LP Metal Machine Music.
At one point during the memorial, Reed’s widow Laurie Anderson made an inconspicuous appearance and chatted with a few people near the seated section.
The tribute was less a solemn affair than an informal, respectful celebration buoyed by Reed’s electrifying music. The crowd was a mixture of young and old, sitting and standing as they soaked in the music; there were hugs and chatting, with media milling about. Everyone cheered and applauded after each song.
The event didn’t feature any large signs, banners, photographs of Reed or any other markers indicating it was a memorial. For three hours, it was just about letting the songs speak for themselves.