There's been a lot of talk about
how Lou Reed isn't far from paying his debt to debauchery, but quite frankly,
I've discovered it to be a crock. A cancelled show date in Poughkeepsie, New
York (from where I hail, approximately) inspired rumors of sickness, heroin
addiction relapses, yada yada. The truth? Dude was playing a surprise show in
the Czech Republic, where he's hailed as an anti-Commie cultural god of sorts.
Take that, Hudson Valley!
Anyway, he made good on that split and played a date in Kingston (best known
for absolutely nothing except the fact that the Pixies and Jeff Tweedy also
think it's kinda cool), New York, and I piled into a 1990 Crown Victoria
station wagon with some kids from my rock journalism class after some pulled
strings landed us on the guest list.
We shivered in the cracked leather seats of the Ulster County Performing Arts
Center, a venue more suited for the local symphony than the likes of Lou. The
crowd was pure Mid-Hudson Valley fare: drunk middle-aged men totally stoked to
be at a rock show without the old ball & chain, hipsters from local colleges,
and finally, some theatre club members who'd probably confused it with a
Martin Sexton show.
Cue electric green light and a couple of startled, spilled beers (contraband
in a joint like this). Some dude from Long Island ambled onstage in a cutoff
t-shirt and jeans, opened that mouth of a million cigarettes and god knows
what else, and I knew I was home. Let's cut to the facts: The Rolling Stones
look like shit because they haven't taken a second to say "Hey, we're getting
a little older ... it's time to relax and have some tea." Graceful agers, my
ass. Lou Reed had the sense to go on vacation for a bit, find God or whoever,
and take up tai chi.
Launching right into "What's Good" from Magic and Loss, he quelled
earlier reports of being a stationary showman, twisting his hips with a few
little half-turns and a snap of his fingers. Like a conductor, he pulled down
on an invisible thread and cinched the end of the song closed with his
fingers, his band following suit. I barely caught my breath as "The
Proposition" began to caress the crowd, and I was even able to ignore the
crazy guy who insisted on yelling "WOOHOO!" and running back and forth from
one end of the balcony to another (Lou Reed cut the junk and you can, too).
Later on, with a half-smile, Lou stretched the intro of "Waiting For the Man"
an extra twelve bars, fully aware of the agony he was causing. Bathed in red
light, he sang of New York City drug deals long gone, and our knees went weak.
In a leap of faith, he dove into the title track from The Raven, a
widely misunderstood spoken-word album of Edgar Allan Poe's work released in
2003. Sales were dismal, but tonight, he ripped into the last stanza,
finishing with a deliciously tortured "I love she who hates me more!" and a
roomful of people suddenly got it.
Line by staggering line, he painstaking released "Perfect Day" to us during a
hard-won encore. Images of Ewan McGregor sinking into a red carpet at a drug
dealer's flat long gone, we got the ultimate hit: the original gravelly voice
of an icon whose name leaves hipsters' lips every second.
A small wave of his hand, a swoop of the house lights, and I sat staring into
space, knowing I'd go home and slap my copy of Rock and Roll Animal on
the turntable and write to let you know that it is indeed possible survive the
white light/white heat.