Erudite and articulate as he unquestionably was, Lou Reed could also be a man of few words, depending on his mood. In 1996, when Reed was first inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as a member of the Velvet Underground, he kept his acceptance speech as short and modest as “Sister Ray” was long and brash. “I’d like to thank all the people who worked so hard to get us in,” Reed said that night. “And I just wanted to say how much we regret that our friend and fellow musician Sterling Morrison couldn’t be with us. Thank you.”
Reed succumbed to liver cancer in the fall of 2013, so we’ll never know whether or not he would have graced us with a lengthier speech upon his induction into the Hall as a solo artist. But Laurie Anderson, Reed’s partner of 21 years (they were married in 2008), was there to accept the posthumous honor on his behalf, and deliver some beautiful and eloquent words of her own.
Though both residents of New York City, Anderson and Reed initially met in Munich, where they were both performing as part of John Zorn’s Kristallnacht festival. Anderson told Rolling Stone that their first “date” was to the Audio Engineering Society Convention in New York, where “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.”
Laurie Anderson’s Speech for Lou Reed:
Thank you all.
It’s wonderful to be here in Cleveland and Lou would have loved this. He’s here with his heroes, and Otis and Dion. He’s here with B.B. King who he loved and admired, Aretha who we saw many times, his dear friend Doc Pomus who taught him so much and was the “you” he sang to in his beautiful record Magic and Loss.
Of course the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame is the place where names of great musicians become completely magic words: Buddy Holly! Little Richard! The Coasters! And now Lou Reed! is one of these magic words.
Lou’s songs are full of life and complexity and they’re about people who have names. Candy and Caroline and Little Joe and Junior Dad and the Man. So now they’re all here too, the people from his imagination. Along with his rock and roll groove.
Like he said,
Despite all the amputations, you can still dance to the rock & roll station And it was all right.
Lou knew the difference between himself as a writer and himself as a person and as a rock & roll star. He could shift between these roles with such skill. He could take his fame off like one of his leather jackets or he could decide to use it. The fame itself was never that important. Lou was genuinely proud of what he’d done and could really appreciate his own work. Tonight he would have been immensely proud to be part of this.
Lou loved musicians and played with so many — Ornette, Pavarotti and Metallica. He brought Jimmy Scott back out into the light – he was an early champion and supporter of Antony.
He had a really big talent for deep friendships and he had so many friends: Hal Willner, Julian Schnabel Bob Ezrin, Doc Pomus, Mick Rock, John Zorn, Bill Bentley, Tony Visconti.
Lou loved hearing new music and he and his friend, the encyclopedic and fantastical Hal Willner, had a radio show, New York Shuffle, which was all about featuring new music and new bands.
In the last year and a half I’ve heard from literally hundreds of people who’ve said how much Lou changed their lives, pushing them towards something, pushing them to be better.
Recently a guitar player told me about a time when she was playing with Lou onstage and it was some kind of benefit with lots of people stepping out and doing solos, and like many musicians who played with Lou she was nervous about what he had to say about her playing. So she stepped out and did a solo and she said she thought it was really pretty good and after she finished she passed him on stage and she said, “So?”
And he said, “Is that all you’ve got?” She couldn’t believe he’d said that and she was really frustrated and an hour later she did another solo and this time she really stepped on it. And she passed by him again and he said “That’s what I’m talking about.”
Lou was a wirehead. He loved gear, he loved good sound. He was a photographer and an inventor. He was a warrior, a tai chi and eagle claw practitioner. He was a great dancer, he could take watches apart and put them back together, he was kind, he was hilarious, he was never ever cynical.
Lou was my best friend and he was also the person I admire most in the world. In the twenty one years we were together there were a few times when I was mad and there were a few times when I was frustrated but I was never, ever bored.
When we met we were both touring musicians and often had to be apart. Recently a musician friend was telling me that he and his girlfriend were on the road so much that they decided not to live anywhere at all. And I said, “How do you do that? Isn’t that disorienting not to have a place anywhere?” And he said, “She is my home.” And I realized that that was what it was like for me and Lou. It just didn’t matter where we were.
Lou loved his sister Merrill and her family and he loved and admired his aunt Shirley who was the subject of his film Red Shirley.
He was also a radical inventor and artist right up until the very end of his life. He made groundbreaking work like the live versions of Metal Machine Music.
One of his last works was Lulu, an opera he did with Bob Wilson and played on the road with Metallica. This work is really challenging and I had a hard time with it – with its fierceness and its radiance and rage.
After Lou’s death David Bowie made a big point of saying to me “Listen, this is Lou’s greatest work. This is his masterpiece. Just wait, it will be like Berlin it will take everyone a while to catch up.”
And recently I’ve been reading the lyrics and it is so fierce. It’s written by a man who understood fear and rage abandonment terror revenge and love. Lulu was Lear. And it is raging. Anyone who heard Lou sing Junior Dad will never forget the experience of hearing that song literally torn out of a body. This was rock and roll taken to whole new levels.
Lou understood pain and he understood beauty. And he knew that these two are often intertwined and that was what energized them. This duality, this yin and yang, was what drew him to tai chi. He was a tai chi master and made beautiful meditation music that is used in tai chi and meditation classes all over the world.
As meditators and students of Buddhism for many years we often talked about the advice of our Buddhist teacher which had become central to our lives. One of the things our teacher Mingyur Rinpoche told us was this. He said “You should try to practice how to feel sad without actually being sad,” which is actually really hard – to feel sad without actually being sad.
Lou taught me a lot about love and I found out what it is to love and to be completely loved in return. This will be a part of me for the rest of my life. It’s also something that changes you forever to have the love of your life die in your arms and when Lou died in mine I watched as he did tai chi forms with his hands. And I watched the look of joy and surprise that came over his face as he died and I became less afraid. One more thing he taught me.
Lou crosses my mind every hour. After a year and a half I’m still waiting for him to call and sometimes he actually does call and suddenly I remember one of his phrases or some random words or songs we made up. And I’m reminded also of the three rules we came up with – rules to live by. And I’m going to tell you what they are because they come in really handy because things happen so fast it’s good to have a few catchwords to fall back on when there’s not enough time to think.
The first one is don’t be afraid of anyone. Now can you imagine living your life so that you are afraid of no one? And second is get a really good bullshit detector and learn how to use it. And third is be really really tender.
For people whose partner has died it’s a great shock. You’re propelled into a magic world where you finally understand many things that were complete mysteries up to that point.
And so finally I see how people turn into light and turn into music and eventually into other people. And how fluid the bones really are. They say you die three times. First when your heart stops. Second is when you’re buried or cremated. And third is the last time someone says your name.
I am so happy that Lou’s name is added to the list of people who will be remembered for the beautiful music they made. Lou, my sweet one, I love the last song you wrote, The Power of the Heart.
You know me I like to dream a lot Of what there is and what there’s not But mainly I dream of you a lot The power of the heart
The power of the heart. I accept this in your name. One more “Louuuuu!”