Lou Reed// A Reflection

Reed+plays+%E2%80%9CBerlin%E2%80%9D+at+Le+Bataclan+in+Paris.+Stills+taken+from+%E2%80%9CLou+Reed+%26+John+Cale+-+Berlin+-+Bataclan+%E2%80%9872%2C%E2%80%9D+courtesy+of+YouTube+user+maybetonight.+

Reed plays “Berlin” at Le Bataclan in Paris. Stills taken from “Lou Reed & John Cale – Berlin – Bataclan ‘72,” courtesy of YouTube user maybetonight.

Reed plays “Berlin” at Le Bataclan in Paris. Stills taken from “Lou Reed & John Cale - Berlin - Bataclan ‘72,” courtesy of YouTube user maybetonight.
Reed plays “Berlin” at Le Bataclan in Paris. Stills taken from “Lou Reed & John Cale – Berlin – Bataclan ‘72,” courtesy of YouTube user maybetonight.

I was in Grand Central on Sunday when I heard Lou Reed had died. Minutes later, the baristas switched the café’s playlist from Sublime to Velvet Underground, and I imagined Reed waiting by a Harlem brownstone, not for his heroin dealer, but for an entirely different man in black. Then I spent the afternoon searching on YouTube and scrolling through my iTunes library, an impromptu lonesome memorial service for inarguably one of the most important musical artists of all time.

My favorite of Reed’s recordings is a live video from his 1972 performance of the song “Berlin” at Le Bataclan in Paris. The footage is blue-gray and Reed smokes throughout, tapping his ashes over his guitar and licking his lips slowly between inhales. John Cale plays piano soulfully but mostly out of the spotlight, in emotional and physical deference to Reed’s earnest off-tone voice. What I like best about this video, though, is that Nico, Velvet Underground’s part-time chanteuse, stands backstage the entire time, transfixed, and that Reed occasionally turns and stares, dedicating to her this heartbroken apology. He belts with dead eyes, “You’re right and I’m wrong,” and the two sometimes-lovers’ faces fill the screen, Reed’s in club light focus and Nico’s blurred like a ghost over his shoulder. It’s beautiful and sad, maybe more for a hyped mythology than honest history, but it moves me nonetheless.

On Sunday night, my friends and I played Velvet Underground songs in the car and drove to Hidden Falls Regional Park to see BareBones puppet theater’s 20th Annual Halloween Extravaganza. The theme and title of this year’s show was “Carry On,” intended both in the sense of carrying on to the other side and in the sense of carrying on after a loved one passes. At the end of the show, the audience was invited to shout ames of lost loved ones to remember and honor them. I heard Lou Reed’s name yelled over and over. I think that I, like many people, fall into a trap of sadness when a celebrity passes. It seems impossible that these seeming immortals could just die and be gone. I’m tempted to wish Reed were still alive and godlike. But it was always his humanity that made him beautiful. His eccentricity was mysterious and attractive, but it was moments like those in the smoky Le Bataclan that haunt and hold me most.