In 1996, Lou Reed, John Cale and Moe Tucker performed “Last Night I Said Goodbye to My Friend” at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony in a poignant tribute to their late Velvet Underground cohort Sterling Morrison. Saturday night, however, it was Reed who was the subject of a memorable and emotional tribute for his solo work after touching speeches by Patti Smith (inducting him) and Laurie Anderson (accepting on his behalf). Yeah Yeah Yeahs’ Karen O and Nick Zinner performed Transformer’s lead track “Vicious,” while Beck opted to sing “Satellite of Love” from the same album with fun. frontman Nate Ruess on backup vocals and Paul Shaffer’s band backing them.
Although Karen O emerged decades later from a very different New York City than the one that launched and inspired Reed, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs frontwoman felt a similarly deep connection to Reed’s work. “When I talk about Lou Reed and his music and everything he’s done, I pull my hair out because I’m so blown away and relate so much to it,” she told Pitchfork in 2014. “Life doesn’t get any less scary, and who else is going to sing a song about how scary life is in your adult years than Lou Reed? Artists that are valuable are putting out things we all feel but don’t think to express necessarily, and Reed went to places that people don’t normally go.”
Beck, who discovered the Velvet Underground in his early teens, has long worshipped at the altar of Reed. “I’ve been playing Lou Reed’s songs since I first picked up the guitar,” he told Rolling Stone in 2013. “[His songs] 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’s just nothing cooler than that to me.”
Beck has covered such Velvets classics as “Who Loves the Sun” and “Sunday Morning” in his live sets through the years; in 2002, he and Radiohead frontman Thom Yorke teamed up at the Bridge School Benefit Concert for a beautiful rendition of the Velvets’ “I’m Set Free.” “I never get tired of playing his songs,” Beck said. “It always works. You can always play a Hank Williams song, you can always play a Beatles song, and you can always play a Lou Reed song.”
Additional reporting by Dan Epstein and Andy Greene