Here’s my one-and-only Lou Reed story: I met Lou Reed in the Spring of 2005 at UCLA’s annual Festival of Books. Only the day before, I’d heard—almost by accident—that Reed was scheduled to perform a dramatic reading based on The Raven followed by questions-and-answers and a book signing. I told my friend Sharon about the event and asked her if she wanted to accompany me. Since Sharon is habitually late—to the extent that it seems to border on being a serious medical condition—I took the precaution of telling her the event was at noon even though it was actually beginning at one o’clock… and yet somehow we still managed to arrive twenty minutes late.
Nonetheless, we saw the entire Q&A, which was quite illuminating. I recall being impressed by the fact that Reed’s knowledge of Edgar Allan Poe didn’t seem to be at all superficial, which of course is exactly what you’d expect from almost any other popular musician who had taken upon himself the daunting task of distilling the essence of Poe into a series of rock 'n' roll songs. At one point he even commented on Poe having presaged the Big Bang Theory in Eureka, the pre-Fortean book of which only the most ardent Poe scholar is even aware. Reed seemed to have actually read the damn thing from cover to cover. (I’m not even sure Poe’s biographers have done that.) At one point, in answer to a question about his attitudes toward the Bush administration’s apparent obsession with redneck-style End Times theology, I recall Reed claiming he’d been thinking about that exact same issue during the plane ride from New York to Los Angeles and as a result had written a brand new country-western song called “Jesus Was a Jew.”
After the Q&A everyone in the audience lined up to meet the great man himself. The line wrapped around the building—needless to say, an anomaly at the UCLA Festival of Books. As Sharon and I approached Reed, I found myself growing inexplicably nervous. I was nowhere near that apprehensive while sharing an elevator ride with all four of The Ramones in San Diego in 1990, and yet here I was getting a tad jittery. I had planned to ask Reed a question about Little Jimmy Scott, but by the time I reached the table I looked into his weird-ass bulging eyeballs trapped behind those wraparound shades and drew a complete blank. It was one of the few times in my life when I found myself absolutely tongue-tied. My original question evacuated my brain, and instead I heard myself uttering a complete non sequitur: “Are you… aware… of the work of Neil Gaiman?” I have absolutely no idea why I said this. Perhaps because Gaiman quotes Reed so much in his own work? I really don’t know to this day. Unfathomable. Just plain dumb. Anyway, there the question was, floating in the air the two of us now shared, utterly irretrievable.
Reed just stared at me with those monstrous, compound eyes—they seemed as if they were trying to escape Reed’s skull and leap through his sunglasses—for quite a long time (or at least what seemed like a long time to me) before finally responding with a snarl and a distinct hint of disgust in his voice: “You mean that comic book guy?” He said nothing more about the subject. He signed my copy of Between Thought and Expression, slid it toward me across the wooden table, and that was it.
I once told this story to Jack Womack (author of Random Acts of Senseless Violence and many other brilliant books), who immediately responded: “Lou Reed is a weasel, and anecdotes like that are why I’ll always love him.” Amen.
By the way, I once saw Lou Reed in concert. This was in 1988 during the New York tour. The memory of Reed and Mike Rathke engaged in a virtuoso two-way guitar duel that seemed to last for a quarter of an hour during the middle of “The Original Wrapper” will forever be emblazoned in my brain. Blessed Be, Lou—to both you and your over-engorged, diseased liver, you son of a bitch.
Let’s fade out on “HALLOWEEN PARADE,” shall we?
Oh, one last note: According to Victor Bockris’ 1995 biography, Transformer, Lou Reed’s favorite comic book story of all time was “Foul Play” by Al Feldstein and Jack Davis from the infamous 1950s EC horror comic book, The Haunt of Fear. So, in honor of both Lou Reed and Halloween, here it is—an encore performance of “Foul Play” by that transgressive punk rock duo known as Feldtein & Davis….
Click HERE to read “Foul Play.”
Click HERE to listen to “Halloween Parade.”