Bash Compactor: In the Reeds
Last week at Housing Works, Lou Reed read from his omnibus of songwriting and poetry, [Pass Thru Fire]. Bookish hipsters of all shapes, sizes and ages were packed in tightly on both floors. It was quiet as a church except for Reed’s steady drone. “This is a rewrite I did of Poe’s ‘The Raven,’” he intoned, taking a swig of water. “And it’s long.” A gorgeous 20-year-old redhead—a black bandanna hanging out of the back pocket of her faded and torn jeans—looked disappointed. This type of audience abuse might pass for S&M with the older set, but it’s not “Venus in Furs.”
Moderated Q&A time. Softballs about what the great man was reading (Michael Chabon). Jack Bruce’s bass on Berlin. “What? Like there’s some sordid story to his bass lines?” he cracked, shooting one of his toadies an injured look. A drunken voice from underneath a floppy bolero finally shook things up with, “The Beachnuts”—hack work Reed did in ‘65—”was the greatest R&B album of all time!”
I found the dude in the floppy bolero, Josh Styles, weaving along at the front of a line that stretched out the door. “I wanted to piss him off,” he told me. Unfurling one of Lou’s pre-Velvets 45s, he added, “This sounds like the true meaning of rock ‘n’ roll, not fucking Berlin.” I asked how he knew that. “I met him back in ‘68, with Gerard Malanga at the Factory.” Staggering backwards into some folding chairs he added, “He wanted to buttfuck me.”
I got the go ahead for a minute on the record with the man about his new writing scholarship at Syracuse University. He’s endowed it under both his name and that of his late mentor, poet Delmore Schwartz. I asked Reed what Schwartz—a famously tortured genius—thought of his songwriting talents. “He never got to hear them,” he answered. So, what did he teach you? He raised his eyebrows and let out a thoughtful, elongated: “Well…” Some chick from Housing Works cut in and the grand seigneur shrugged. I told the schoolmarm I had gotten the go ahead. Reed turned into a cranky old man again. “You got my answer; he never heard them.”
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