Lunch Drawing #28: Walk on the Wild Side (Drawing for Lou Reed)

Lunch drawing 28: Walk on the Wild Side

There was a memorial held for Lou Reed last night in New York City at the Apollo, which Lou would have loved. In its heyday, the Apollo was THE showcase for artists of color. All of the greats passed through there at one time or another; James Brown, Little Richard, Etta James, and all of the great doo-wop groups. Growing up, Lou loved Dion. Later in life, the two men became good friends through Doc Pomus. Last night, according to Penn Jillette’s and Salman Rushdie’s posts ; some of those old lights were relit.

It may seem hard to understand at first that Lou started his career writing doo-wop songs, but if you think about it, this glorious street corner music echoes though out Lou’s work, particularly in Walk on the Wild Side, where this idiomatic American sound becomes an earthy, gritty rock and roll aria.

In the “Doo-do-do-do-do” chorus there are precisely 64 “doo’s.”

It is like a driving lullaby; an incantation, an urgent come-hither invitation to the other side.

About two years ago, I hosted a dinner at Les Halles in New York, the night before my show was to open in Brooklyn at Pierogi. I usually invited about 30 of my friends and crew because opening night is too much of a madhouse to figure anything like this out.

I brought my assistant Jesse Sioux Achramowicz. She is a big Lou Reed fan, particularly the Velvet Underground. She was born in 1988 and having gone through a total identity transformation entering high school, she discovered punk rock, like all young artists seem to do. The writings of Lou and Patti Smith became beacons of light to her, poetry of rebellion which spoke to her in loud, bold strokes. It gave her a floor to dance upon. Lou, in particular, resonated with a young artist searching for her own voice.

Jesse Sioux is a unique human being. She’s the best assistant I’ve ever had and the most unusual. She dresses in a very different outfit every day. One day she will have bangs and a florescent orange matching bag and shoes, the next she will have a pile of blue, green, and lavender dreadlocks with Malcom X glasses and jewels in her teeth. She is only like herself; and one of the kindest human beings I know.

She was sat directly across from Lou and she was freaked, with her hero sitting eyeball to eyeball across from her. They talked all night; Lou, the kindly punk-rock uncle telling stories and discussing dogs, iPhones, technology (Lou loved gadgets and so does Jesse) and you’d have thought they’d known each other their whole lives. It was the Lou I knew–kind, intelligent and generous of spirit.

Jesse was over the moon to have had a conversation with Lou. I chose to make a portrait of her for this chorus of the song because I suspect Lou knew that Jesse, and young people like her, were exactly who he wrote that song to set free.

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Published in: on December 17, 2013 at 5:41 pm  Comments (3)  
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Lunch Drawing 27: Drawing for the Back-Up Singers (Drawing for Lou Reed)

Lunch Drawing 27: Drawing for the Back-Up Singers (Drawing for Lou Reed)In the marvelous documentary, Twenty Feet from Stardom, the career trajectory of a great many female back up singers is traced, including Merry Clayton, whose hair-raising vocals on the Rolling Stones’ Gimme Shelter still induce awe and chills with each listening. She remarks that she was a girl trained in the church, and that when the call came very late at night to sing the Stones song, she was appalled by the lyrics, “…rape, murder, it’s just a shot away…”, but this was her job and at the time, she was pregnant and had mouths to feed.

It is not possible to overestimate the soul-rending beauty these women added to rock and roll music right from the beginning.

Many of our leading female stars started out singing behind lesser talented male singers. Sheryl Crow started behind Don Henley and Michael Jackson, as did Lisa Fischer. Bette Midler sang behind many stars and in bathhouses before breaking out on her own. Detroit’s luminous Bettye LaVette was a back-up singer on Motown songs. The list goes on and on.

Lou Reed, who loved doo-wop. pays homage to these women in Walk on the Wild Side with what now sounds like a very Un-P.C. lyric: “…And the colored girls go, ‘Doo-Do-do-do-do-Doo-do-do-do-do-do-do’,” which I’m sure was written with the utmost empathy and, in fact, written to shed a light on the very often unappreciated and underpaid women who gave rock and roll its grace notes.

Published in: on December 11, 2013 at 7:02 am  Leave a Comment  
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Lunch Drawing 26: Kid Hustle

Kid HustleThe New York City of 1972 was a desperate, narcotic haze of failed urban planning, poverty and criminality. Mayor John Lindsay had inherited a city teetering on the verge of bankruptcy, rife with racial and social unrest, and hobbled by strikes of every kind by city workers and other labor unions–as well as a blackout; in which the power grid went down and made the city doubly terrifying. New York City, for a time, resembled the Gomorrah that the rest of America thought it was.

Lindsay was considered presidential timber, and briefly abandoned office to run for president in the 1972 primaries. He dropped out soon enough after a few poor showings. His opponents, quickly pointed out what they considered the ruinous condition of New York City. Lindsay became an easily assailable candidate.

John Lindsay was an odd duck in New York politics. He was Kennedy-handsome, liberal (but not too liberal) and in any other environment, an attractive prospect for the presidency. Though, with New York as the backdrop for his ambitions, the foundation of his political structure, an example of his leadership…he was fucked.

John Lindsay started out in politics as a Republican. It’s thought that civil rights is what led him to jump to the Democratic party, though it was probably more to better his chances in New York City as a pol.

While every news outlet in the country was writing New York City’s obit; the city’s cultural zeitgeist roared forward. Its artistic activity manifested itself in one of the richest periods in the city’s history. A cursory look around the landscape found Warhol, The Velvets, Donald Judd, Roy Lichtenstein, Rauschenberg, Johns, Ana Mendieta, Eva Hesse. . .this list goes on and on. The New York of 1972 was affordable. The city of disrepair was a place artists of every stripe could find a way to survive, create, and thrive. All they had to do was hustle.

Published in: on December 5, 2013 at 11:28 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Lunch Drawing 23: Lady Eyebrows

Lunch Drawing 23: Lady Eyebrows

One night in Manhattan, my friend, Bob Chase, and I met up with Lou Reed to attend a benefit for Prospect 1, the first-ever New Orleans Biennial. It was at the Core Club, a kind of fancy-schmancy, arts-positive club that had graciously agreed to host the event. While standing outside, Lou told us of how “Walk on the Wild Side” came into being. It was initially written for a musical based on Nelson Algren’s novel of the same name. When the financing failed to materialize, Lou switched out Algren’s New Orleans demimonde for Warhol’s Factory denizens and achieved the only top 40 hit of his career.

Never before had Top 40 radio had a song that spoke so clearly to the “other”–junkies, gay people, and other square pegs who existed in the margins of American life.

The first time I heard it I was in seventh grade, wearing black pants, a white shirt and a red tie (the Catholic school uniform of St Pius X)and I remember thinking that I didn’t know completely what this song was about, but I knew it had something to do with me.

It was one of those moments that set me free and let me know that there was another side.

It probably isn’t Lou’s best song, or even his best-known song, but it is the one that reached into the white-bread heart of America and announced that the freaks and misfits and others who chose a life outside of the lines weren’t going anywhere to hide any more, and this was not a small thing. Lou broke down the door, and the rest of us got to walk through it.

Published in: on November 14, 2013 at 7:50 pm  Comments (1)  
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Lunch Drawing #22: ‘Looking for Soul Food (Drawing for Lou Reed)

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There is a very expensive steakhouse in Brooklyn called Peter Luger’s that, for over a hundred years, has served what’s thought to be the best steak in New York, , ,or the country for that matter.  And when you eat their beef, it is hard to argue with this appraisal. It melts in your mouth. It is perfectly seasoned and cooked at a very high temperature in butter. The Luger’s steak is delicious. No argument. The service leaves a lotto be desired, though; snotty old Kraut waiters, a long wait even when you have a reservation, and the light so bright, you’d think you were in an operating room.

For many of the years that I knew Lou Reed, this was his favorite steak. . .and we ate a lot of it. We’d often go with a big group; five or six people at least. Luger’s was less likely to fuck you around if it was a big table. Over the years, Lou brought Salman Rushdie, Hal Wilner,the musical genius, Laurie Anderson and a host of dudes from his Tai-Chi classes, including the instructor.

I brought my friends Nick Bubash, Mickey Cartin,  Joe Amrhein, and various other miscreants. Our crowds mixed well and during the dinner we’d talk about art, music, politics, and exchange the latest dirty jokes. Salman Rushdie has a deep cache of very funny dirty jokes. I was always amazed that he was so funny. For all that he had been through, (it isn’t everyone who has the leader of a country put a price on his head) he was and is funnier than hell. It was also interesting to hear him discuss books and authors.  At one dinner, he explained a petty pissing match between V.S. Naipaul and Paul Theroux who’d
written a scathing book about their friendship and its undoing. Salman explained that the notoriously thin-skinned Theroux was pissed that Naipaul no longer wanted to be friends and wrote a book about it. It was nice to hear that great writers were just as petty and vindictive and juvenile as the rest of us.

Often, toward the end of the meal, there would be a pile of steak bones that still had a lot of meat on them. Lou and I would chew the meat off of the bones. we’d just flat-ass pick up the bones and start gnawing on them like a couple of terriers. The great thing was Lou made noise while he gnawed, not unlike a growl, and it was funnier than hell. What was great was that after the notoriously aloof service by starch-shirted elderly Huns, there were a couple of guys loudly chewing on bones, and didn’t give a fuck who heard it–and one of them was Lou Reed. What were they going to say?

“Hey, Lou Reed! Stop chewing on that bone of the steak you just paid for.”

I can tell you how THAT would have gone.

Later on, Lou became a fan of Wolfgang’s, which was opened by a bunch that used to work at Luger’s, the late, great West 63rd Street Steakhouse across from Lincoln Center or, in a pinch, the grand old war horse of Manhattan steakhouses, The Homestead.

There is something about steak to kids who were raised working-class. They enjoy it more. It is always a treat, even if you can eat it every night.

If you haven’t guessed yet, I’m drawing the song, “Walk on the Wild Side.” It is the first song of Lou’s I ever heard and, at the time,it spoke to me in a way I didn’t quite understand; like a dog whistle for people who knew they were going to be other.

It is the only way I can think of to honor my friend.

Published in: on November 11, 2013 at 12:32 am  Comments (1)  
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Lunch Drawing 21: Kid Hustle…..(Wal​k on the Wild Side, ​for Lou Reed)​

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In 1972, a single was released that was unlike anything in the history of AM Radio. Lou Reed’s, Walk on the Wild Side spoke of transgression, otherness and addiction. It also casually mentioned “giving head,” which, for some reason, went over the heads of the notorious radio censors of the day. It was a howl from the other side,a bulletin to the square America that there were whole other cultures walking among them and damn-near invisible.

The New York of this song was grimy and dangerous, the same New York that, two years later, Martin Scorsese would mine for the shattering Taxi Driver. New York City was dangerous, subversive, and the last thing we had resembling Bohemia. It was the New York of Warhol’s Factory where, of course, The Velvet Underground was nurtured and unleashed on the world. And right at the forefront of all of it was Lou Reed.

He’d studied philosophy at Syracuse and was a student of the great American poet, Delmore Schwartz. In the whole time I knew Lou, he was never not reading poetry. He loved haiku, Rilke, Artaud, Baudelaire, Rimbaud, Valery. You name it, Lou read it. He was also fascinated by the city of New York, kind of the same way I am by Chicago, and I loved when he told me stories of the city in the early ’70s and late ’60s and the tidal, cultural changes that he, himself, helped foster into being. . .the places like Max’s Kansas City, CBGB–the emergence of punk and the roiling and whirling energies that brought it all to bear. He was witness to all of it.

New York was a dangerous place. Forty-Second Street before the invasion of the Disney crowd, was lurid and grim and shiny whore candy for blocks at a time. One of those place that was scary even in broad daylight. And Lou sang of its people in terse and unsparing lyrics. “Walk on the Wild Side” was the beginning of an enormous cultural shift in a bankrupt city of hunger.

Published in: on November 6, 2013 at 9:01 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Lunch Drawing 20: Kid Satellite of Love (Magic Cat for Lou Reed)

 

Lunch Drawing 20: Kid Satellite of LoveIt seems there is nobody who doesn’t have something to say about the passing of Lou Reed. The past couple of days have yielded an outpouring of love for the man that, quite honestly, might have surprised even him, particularly from music journalists. Some, who never had a kind word for him in life, have written fawning eulogies that say a good deal more about themselves than they do about Lou. It is a curious thing.

And right about now? He is probably laughing his ass off. I can say this with a straight face. One of the things I treasure the most in this life is that Lou Reed was my friend.

For over twenty years, we shared meals, dirty jokes, stories and a lot of friends.

People would often complain to me that Lou was nasty to journalists or rude. I saw him around a lot of journalists and never once saw this. I can believe he could be formidable and thorny with some in the ink racket. Do I condone this? Yeah, every goddamned bit of it. When some asshole with a notepad decides to make a punchline out of you, the last goddamned thing you are obligated to do is help them. So, if Lou messed up their hair a little bit…good for him.

I met him through Penn Jillette. He had given Lou an etching that I’d made based on one of his songs. Lou liked it and shortly after that Penn arranged an introduction.

One always hears, “Don’t meet your heroes–they’ll only disappoint you.”

This was not ever the case with Lou. He never treated me with anything other than kindness and generosity. He also challenged the way I thought about music and art, poetry and damned near everything else.

We talked like guys talk, unguarded and we could say anything we wanted. I wasn’t a journalist wanting to pick at the legend and see if a reaction could be needled out of him. I was a young artist trying to find my voice and, along with some others, Lou helped me find it, with forthrightness, humor and, from time to time, some tough love.

“Get off the cross, Kid. Somebody needs the wood,” was what he told me once after a condescending review from a Buffalo newspaper.

“What you do, Kid,is you outlast the fuckers.”

It was the best advice I ever got.

For all of Lou’s perceived flintiness with the press, he was a constant source of fascination for them–an artist that seemed at once fully formed, yet restlessly experimental.

It occurs to me that Lou’s real audience probably hasn’t been born yet.

He is one of those who casts a very long shadow. Coming generations will discover what ours missed with brilliant works like Magic and Loss and Set the Twilight Reeling, there will be a newer, less cynical appreciation for songs like Talking Book, which was written for one of his collaborative shows with Robert Wilson.

For all of those whose appreciation for Lou ceased with the end of the Velvet Underground, well. . .you haven’t realized half of this artist’s output. Check out the rest and you are in for a real treat.

I met Lou right after he and the artist, Laurie Anderson, became a couple and if he became less flinty and friendlier, it was due to her. I remember walking through the West Village with him one night and telling me, “Everyday, I think of a new way to adore her.” He smiled the big smile. There are damned few photographs of that smile–if any– but if you ever saw him play live,  you know the one I am talking about. I spent many nights in their company and I’ll tell you this , Lou and Laurie knew how to be in love. When they married in 2008, I saw Laurie backstage after one of her performances at the Harris Theater, and she told me, “Me and Lou got married. Isn’t that crazy?” The whole time I knew Lou and Laurie, they were never happier than when they were with each other. At times. I thought of them as one beings; odd as that sounds, given their distinctive and iconic artistic identities.

It’s been said the Velvet Underground records didn’t sell worth a damn, but everybody that bought one, started a band. This quote is often attributed to Brian Eno, who denies ever saying it; yet one cannot dance around its essential truth. I don’t know anybody in rock and roll who was NOT influenced by Lou, Lou and the Velvets, Lou and John Cale. The list of incarnations goes on and on.

What we can all learn from Lou Reed is to be fearless, to be fierce, and to be unflinchingly honest, no matter what it costs us. That some of his records were greeted with derision and jeers again tells you a lot more about the writers of those reviews than they ever did about Lou Reed. I can tell you this:  Every time Lou made a record, he emptied the tank, gave it his all and left every thought, appetizing or otherwise, in the songs. You never got half-measures from Lou Reed.

I was lucky enough to get to hear records before they were released, songs for shows that were never produced in the U.S. including a lot of his collaborations with Robert Wilson; and it was thrilling. I got to meet Fernando Saunders, Tony “Thunder” Smith and the great Mike Rathke–all guys who contributed to that loud, muscular sound that made his live shows such a treat.

Something transformative would happen when the 70-year old man strapped on a guitar. Lou Reed, the wanton teenager whose life was saved by rock and roll showed up and played with a wild abandon and, for a while, he pushed the stars back up into the sky and let them shine on the rest of us who were hell-bent on rebellion. To those of us who looked to rock and roll for our answers and our hopes, and our prayers, he was a fleet and dangerous magic cat with nine rock and roll lives; and in the feedback of those relentless and ferocious songs, I learned not to fear anything.

So long Pal, see you when I get there.

Published in: on October 30, 2013 at 11:36 pm  Comments (1)  
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