Thursday, October 27, 2016

An Elegy for Lou Reed

by Gregg Chadwick

I wrote this when I heard of Lou Reed's death in 2013. Three years on the thoughts still stand. Reposted as an elegy to an inspirational figure for so many. 

"Lou Reed gave us the street and the landscape - and we peopled it."

 - David Bowie in the documentary "Rock 'n' Roll Heart - Lou Reed"

Well hey, man, that's just a lie

It's a lie she tells her friends
'Cause the real song, the real song
Where she won't even admit to herself
The beatin' in her heart
It's a song lots of people know
It's a painful song
A little sad truth
But life's full of sad songs
Penny for a wish
But wishin' won't make you a soldier.
With a pretty kiss for a pretty face
Can't have it's way

Y'know tramps like us, we were born to pay

 - From the beginning of the "Slipaway" section of Lou Reed's song Street Hassle.
    Uncredited spoken vocals by Bruce Springsteen.

Annie Leibovitz
Lou Reed and Laurie Anderson 
Coney Island, New York, 1995
Silver Print

When I found out about Lou Reed's death yesterday morning from Rolling Stone's twitter feed I turned to my Lou Reed playlist and put Reed's cover of Blind Lemon Jefferson's haunting blues number - See That My Grave is Kept Clean along with Antony and the Johnsons' song with Lou Reed - Fistful of Love, and Reed's elegiac urban hymn Berlinon repeat. 

For many of us who came of age and under the influence of the New York City of the 1970's and 1980's, Lou Reed was New York. While at NYU working on my grad degree in art, Reed's music provided an aural map for my explorations across the city. Reed's staccato talk/singing proved to be a gruff yet tender guided tour through my artistic and lovelorn ventures. Often while on the A train, Marty Fogel's Junior Walker fueled sax riff on Reed's Shooting Star would blare in my walkman's headphones. And Walk on the Wild Side always seemed to accompany me across Washington Square. 

Gregg Chadwick
Ghosts of New Amsterdam
24"x36" oil on linen 2013

Reed's urban suite New York kept me close to the city I loved even as I moved west to California. On a trip back to Manhattan a few years later, a friend who had opened a restaurant in the Village told me that she thought that she had been given a sign that she would make it, because Lou Reed was becoming a regular at her joint. 

Not long after, Reed and his song Why Can't I be Good rumbled across the screen in Wim Wenders' cinematic sequel to Wings of Desire - Far Away So CloseLou Reed's future wife, performance artist, composer and musician Laurie Anderson, also provided powerful music for the film. On a recent artistic excursion to Berlin, memories of these two films and Reed's album Berlin brought to light elements of the city that I had missed in the past. 



Much like an author will write about an event or a place to learn what they feel, I will create a series of artworks to understand what I have seen. I pushed my interaction with Berlin into a recent ongoing series of monotypes fueled partly by the visions of Lou Reed, Wim Wenders, Bertolt Brecht, and David Bowie

Gregg Chadwick
Brecht's Song
30"x22" monotype on paper 2011

As Gavin Edwards wrote in Rolling Stone,"While many musicians have made Berlin albums, Lou Reed's Berlin (1973) is the wrist-slashing standard against which they're all judged. When the record concluded with the epic ballad Sad Song, it felt like the whole world was shutting down." Berlin forces us to wrestle with the dead as we walk through its haunted and enchanted streets. After the fall of the wall, Berlin has come to embody the future while at the same time carrying the scars of the past. In the city of Berlin, the political and the personal merge, as evidenced in Lou Reed's Berlin album and David Bowie's recent song Where Are We Now?. In Berlin we are left with existential questions and are reminded that bodies age and die, marriages end, friendships dissolve and memories fade. 

Gregg Chadwick
Rauch Licht (Smoke Light)
30"x22" monotype on paper 2011

During the last years of his life, Lou Reed continued to work with and inspire younger musicians and artists. One of the most fruitful of these mentorship/collaborations was his work with Antony, of Antony and the Johnsons. John Hodgman in the New York Times recounts how the cover image of Antony's EP, I Fell in Love With a Dead Boy "caught the attention of the producer Hal Willner, who bought the EP and played it for Lou Reed, with whom he was working at the time:

'I said, 'Who is that?' Reed recalled. 'So we set out to find him, and he was a few blocks away as it turns out.' ''

Lou Reed invited Antony to tour with him throughout 2003, and every night Antony would sing Candy Says, Reed's haunting tribute to Candy Darling. Caught in the video below, Lou Reed, one of the most influential musicians of the rock era, looks across towards Antony with an expression of pride and wonder. Lou seems mesmerized by what he described as Antony's double tracking and unusual harmonies. Reed had said that he could listen to Antony sing all day. In this video we witness a legend passing on his wisdom and inspiration to another.

Antony and Lou Reed Perform Candy Says

More Videos Below:

Lou Reed & David Bowie Discuss Reed's Album Transformer

 in the documentary "Rock 'n' Roll Heart - Lou Reed"

In an interview with Rolling Stone in 1989, Lou Reed explained that he and Bruce Springsteen were both recording albums at the Record Plant in New York City when an engineer suggested inviting Bruce over to record the "Slipaway" vocals on Reed's song Street Hassle. The last line was Reed's, written with Springsteen's Born to Run in mind:

Y'know tramps like us, we were born to pay

More at:

Lou Reed: The Rolling Stone Interview
Antony Finds His Voice

Lou Reed greets Chuck Close in front of Close's 2012 tapestry Lou 
    published by Magnolia Editions; photo by Amanda Gordon/Bloomberg

August 2013


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