Sometimes its all too easy for us to become cynical and jaundiced regarding the projection of the sex,drugs and rock ‘n roll cliche. Not only does it serve to obscure the music itself,but it can often be misleading. One such example is the late Lou Reed-who passed away almost two weeks ago after complications from liver disease,among other problems. Not being a consistent follower of Reeds’ very individual personal life,there is one statement made by him that will always remind me of his musical and assumed personal character. On a PBS rock documentary in 1995 he stated he’d always had a real problem with authority. To the point of not even being able to hold down conventional employment. Though often associated with being an innovator of the punk rock attitude at least,I personally associated Lou with more of a Miles Davis/Prince-type personality who could succeed in life solely on his own terms.
Whatever the case may be many rock stars may seem spin doctored in the press as being involved in the “rock ‘n roll” lifestyle. With Lou Reed however,that lifestyle was completely entangled with his own. I enjoy the musical and lyrical breadth and elan of Lou Reeds music. He gives one the entire breadth of emotions of life itself in what he did-the joy,the thoughtfulness,the ennui and of course the wildness of it all. He is one of the few musical artists who influence is felt equally across many genres of music. But beyond that? I am no authority to speak in any great detail on his life and career. So…what your about to read here is something that I promised myself I’d never do on this blog: rewrite someone else’s prose. In the most recent issue of Rolling Stone magazine musician/performance artist Laurie Anderson-longtime friend and eventual wife of Reed,presented an extended interview/eulogy that explains Reed’s relationship with her in a way that codifies his personality far better than I could with my meager level of experience with his life. So that is what I am presented here,in part anyway, for you to read.
I guess there are lots of ways to get married. Some people marry someone they hardly know – which can work out, too. When you marry your best friend of many years, there should be another name for it. But the thing that surprised me about getting married was the way it altered time. And also the way it added a tenderness that was somehow completely new. To paraphrase the great Willie Nelson: “Ninety percent of the people in the world end up with the wrong person. And that’s what makes the jukebox spin.” Lou’s jukebox spun for love and many other things, too – beauty, pain, history, courage, mystery.
Lou was sick for the last couple of years, first from treatments of interferon, a vile but sometimes effective series of injections that treats hepatitis C and comes with lots of nasty side effects. Then he developed liver cancer, topped off with advancing diabetes. We got good at hospitals. He learned everything about the diseases, and treatments. He kept doing tai chi every day for two hours, plus photography, books, recordings, his radio show with Hal Willner and many other projects. He loved his friends, and called, texted, e-mailed when he couldn’t be with them. We tried to understand and apply things our teacher Mingyur Rinpoche said – especially hard ones like, “You need to try to master the ability to feel sad without actually being sad.”
Last spring, at the last minute, he received a liver transplant, which seemed to work perfectly, and he almost instantly regained his health and energy. Then that, too, began to fail, and there was no way out. But when the doctor said, “That’s it. We have no more options,” the only part of that Lou heard was “options” – he didn’t give up until the last half-hour of his life, when he suddenly accepted it – all at once and completely. We were at home – I’d gotten him out of the hospital a few days before – and even though he was extremely weak, he insisted on going out into the bright morning light.
As meditators, we had prepared for this – how to move the energy up from the belly and into the heart and out through the head. I have never seen an expression as full of wonder as Lou’s as he died. His hands were doing the water-flowing 21-form of tai chi. His eyes were wide open. I was holding in my arms the person I loved the most in the world, and talking to him as he died. His heart stopped. He wasn’t afraid. I had gotten to walk with him to the end of the world. Life – so beautiful, painful and dazzling – does not get better than that. And death? I believe that the purpose of death is the release of love.
-My sincere apologies to anyone expecting the entirety of the Rolling Stone article to be presented. However as I pointed out,those were Laurie Anderson’s heartfelt words about her now departed husband. And I felt the important part of the eulogy to present here was her discussing the very core nature of the love that had developed in her relationship with Lou Reed during his final two decades of life. It all seems to complete a story of personal life growth for him. Starting out as a restless young Long Islander who had difficulty with anything remotely related to patriarchal social structures,he was able to achieve a productive and fulfilling marriage to Anderson. And of of course in matters of love,one has to surrender a part of themselves to the other on both ends-to leave behind the idea of authority itself behind and see oneself as only one side of a two sided coin. The fact that,by the time of his death,that Lou Reed was able to achieve this shows that even the ultimate anti authoritarian figures in life can expand their ego’s into a broader perspective. So while I may not have totally understood Lou Reed as much as I’d have liked to during his life,after his passing he makes a lot more sense to me as a human being. And that is how I will personally remember the late Lewis Allan Reed.