How do you say good-bye to Lou Reed?
For many of us, he’s been unavoidable, not just as a musical touchstone but as a cranky éminence grise: walking his dog, sitting in cafés with Laurie Anderson and berating waitresses (“Oh, c’mon, you know how I like my eggs.” “No, sir.” “The fuck you don’t!”), turning up at tribute concerts at St Ann’s, Tibet House, and Town Hall.
For a while, he and Laurie Anderson could be found at Les Deux Gamins, on Waverly Place, every morning around nine A.M. After Laurie left, Lou Reed would continue reading the New York Times, then look around the café to see if there was anyone who hadn’t noticed him. If there was, he’d slowly get up, saunter over, and tap them on the shoulder. “Hey. Hey listen. You got a cigarette?” The casual no, no, sorry was then followed by a visible HOLY SHIT! IT’S LOU REED, as he leaned over them with solicitous menace. If they looked sufficiently disturbed, he’d whisper, “Could you go get me one?” They sometimes did.
The tenderness and mercy and wonder of songs like “I’ll Be Your Mirror” and “Pale Blue Eyes” and “I’m Set Free” wasn’t always easy to find in the geezer who seemed to have more ways of saying fuck you to well-wishers and critics alike than Eskimos have words for snow. But if you could get him talking about Doc Pomus or Dion or Bob B. Soxx & the Blue Jeans, the light of the true believer would shine in his eyes.
At Jenni Muldaur’s birthday party last year, she had an old Victrola set up, and I brought a box of forty-fives—the Bobby Fuller Four, the Drifters, the Hombres, the Shirelles, Nervous Norvus. Lou Reed started looking through them admiringly. He stopped when he got to the Jaynetts’ “Sally Go ’Round the Roses,” holding it up like you would the Holy Grail.
“I love that record,” I murmured.
He tilted his head and gave me a look equal parts who the fuck asked you? and me too, me too!