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 Reeds steady drone. This is a rewrite I did of Poes The Raven, he intoned, taking a swig of water. And its long. A gorgeous 20-year-old redheada black bandanna hanging out of the back pocket of her faded and torn jeanslooked disappointed. This type of audience abuse might pass for S&M with the older set, but its not Venus in Furs.
Moderated Q&A time. Softballs about what the great man was reading (Michael Chabon). Jack Bruces bass on Berlin. What? Like theres 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 Beachnutshack work Reed did in 65was 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 Lous 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. Hes endowed it under both his name and that of his late mentor, poet Delmore Schwartz. I asked Reed what Schwartza famously tortured geniusthought 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.