Monday, October 28, 2013

My Lou Reed Story

Sometime around 1983 or 1984, the National Record Mart in Pittsburgh's Oakland neighborhood (which houses the University of Pittsburgh, Carnegie Mellon University, Carlow College and was the inspiration for the setting of Michael Chabon's Mysteries of Pittsburgh) hosted a few in-store autograph appearances by musicians who were performing later that night. When X came to town, I took the bus to Oakland after school (I was still in high school at the time) armed with their first four albums and had them sign them. They were gracious and when I audaciously joked with John Doe to sign Wild Gift to "Darby Crash II," he responded by saying, "You've got a lot to live up to," and did it anyway.

Some time after that, Lou Reed came to town on tour for the New Sensations tour and did an in-store there. I came armed with two Velvets albums and two solo albums. When my turn came I handed him the stack and he asked, "What's your name?" I told him and he signed VU and Nico (with the banana peeled) "TO MIKE - Best Lou Reed."

"So, do you ever talk to John Cale anymore," asked our intrepid teenager.

"No," he shot back, scaring the bejesus out of me and making me realize how dumb a question it was.

As I trembled in my sneakers, his autograph reduced to a scribble on Metal Machine Music and Berlin, looking more like "Lou Lil" on both. After doing the same to my copy of White Light/White Heat - second or third generation, without the skull in the lower left corner (this comes into play in a minute; trust me) - he looked up.

"You know, there's a picture hidden on here. If you hold it under a light, you can see a skull right here," he said, pointing to the lower RIGHT corner.

"Uh-huh," I said, wanting to correct him, but fearing that he might jump up and grab me by my denim jacket and head-butt me or something. I probably ended with some big compliment, knowing that I had better get going before I got kicked out. Years later I heard that some people asked him to autograph skateboards and  a tennis shoe (the latter which was filled with autographs of other musicians) and he said, "I can't do that." Maybe I got off easy.

I also heard that when he came to town in 1990 for some show at Metropol that promoted Songs for Drella, he insisted that a couple he just met be allowed into the VIP room because "they're really sweet." Not a word you'd expect Lou to throw at anyone, let alone new friends.

A few years prior to the NRM experience, I bought my first Velvet Underground record: a budget compilation that MGM compiled from the first three albums. For a time, the chorus of "Sunday Morning" really sent me, when I heard Lou cooing the line, "Watch out/ the world's behind you." It sounded so innocent, yet truthful, the sweetness beneath all that piss and vinegar that I would meet head on a few years later. It was the summer before I started high school and I probably tried to attach some deeper meaning to it.

It doesn't seem possible that Lou Reed could die. But he has. He'd probably get annoyed with all the posthumous praise - especially everyone who thinks it's okay to say "he took one last walk on the wild side" - so I'll just act like he's still here.

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