In the latest issue of Rolling Stone, Lou Reed’s wife Laurie Anderson describes his death on October 27th:
He didn’t give up until the last half-hour of his life, when he suddenly accepted it – all at once and completely. We were at home – I’d gotten him out of the hospital a few days before – and even though he was extremely weak, he insisted on going out into the bright morning light.
As meditators, we had prepared for this – how to move the energy up from the belly and into the heart and out through the head. I have never seen an expression as full of wonder as Lou’s as he died. His hands were doing the water-flowing 21-form of tai chi. His eyes were wide open. I was holding in my arms the person I loved the most in the world, and talking to him as he died. His heart stopped. He wasn’t afraid. I had gotten to walk with him to the end of the world. Life – so beautiful, painful and dazzling – does not get better than that. And death? I believe that the purpose of death is the release of love.
You can read the full interview by clicking on the following link:
What a beautiful description of an ideal way of dying, and what a contrast to people’s expectations at the height of Lou Reed’s fame in the early 1970’s, when he and Keith Richards were at the top of the lists of rock stars most likely to die next. As they grew older, both reportedly cleaned up their acts, abandoning the outrageously drug-addled ways of their youth. Against all odds, Lou made it to 71, and Keith will turn 70 this December. (May he rock on for many years to come!)
No doubt it was their passion for music, along with the long-term love of good women, that sustained them into old age. Since Lou Reed’s passing, I’ve read many tributes to his music and his seminal influence on rock musicians from punk to grunge and beyond. I’ve got nothing to add in that regard – truth be told, I wasn’t a huge fan – but all the eulogies call up vivid memories of the place and time we shared – lower Manhattan in the late 60’s and early 70’s.
Though I never met Lou Reed, I did meet his early manager, Andy Warhol, one night on the corner of St. Marks Place and the Bowery. We’d paused for a red light, and somehow we struck up a conversation. Looking inscrutable behind his dark glasses, Andy asked where I was from, gave me what amounted to a mini-interview, but evidently decided I didn’t pass muster as a potential Chelsea girl, because we went our separate ways.
This was the late 60’s, and no doubt I was on my way to or from the Fillmore East to hear Jefferson Airplane, the Grateful Dead or some other band I found more musically exciting than the Velvet Underground, who were still very much under the radar of FM rock radio. Reading about Lou Reed in Rolling Stone, I realize I may have heard him in an early incarnation of the Velvets, because they used to play live accompaniment for experimental films in the small grubby theaters I frequented. If I did hear him, he didn’t make much of an impression.
But he did impress me in the late 90’s at a concert in Bethel, New York, site of the original Woodstock Festival. On a makeshift temporary stage, he shared a bill with Joni Mitchell and Donovan – all artists I admired but had never heard live, and all marvellous. Typically, he dressed entirely in black and kept his dark glasses on throughout the performance – a cool hipster, not unlike Miles Davis with his shades in nightclubs in the 50’s. (Now I’m really dating myself, but hey, I’m only a year older than Lou Reed.)
After the concert, I wandered around in pitch blackness searching for my car in the abandoned fields, an experience far removed from the festival I lived through and showed my paintings at three decades before. The Bethel Woods arts center now occupies the site, but I haven’t yet been back.
In my Nia class this morning, near the end of the routine, our teacher guided us in moving our energy up through the chakras, through the belly and heart to the head. Afterwards, I told her about how Lou Reed died doing tai chi, and recommended she look up the article, but she was only vaguely aware of who he was. (She was born in 1964, the year I finished college.)
Nonetheless, whenever I’m absorbed in a practice that involves moving my energy up through my body, I’ll remember Lou Reed and the way he died in a state of grace.