Musical War Stories: Lou Reed

lou-reed-sizedOct. 27, 2013

Editor’s note: Lou Reed died this morning. I never did get the Musical War Stories category too far off the ground — between job hunting, finding a job and job hunting yet again — but I’ll let this stand as kind of an obit to him.

March 12, 2013

By way of introduction to a new category in this here blog, Musical War Stories

Got a call this afternoon from my old pal Tom Hearn, who lives in the neighboring town of Cheshire. Tom, a tall redhead who wears glasses like the ones my father wore in the early ’60s, is so low-key and unassuming that you’d just never know, unless you knew him, that he has done some pret-teeee cool things in his life.

Tom is the oldest childhood friend of the man who gave punk its name: Eddie “Legs” McNeil. He’s also the frontman for a band of local renown, The Big Fat Combo. (They have chops. And I’m proud to say I made my recording debut with the combo 10 years ago — under the name Fran Fried & the American People — cutting a tune called “(All I Get Is) Letters” for Let’s Get Furious, a two-disc tribute to that quirky, beloved and longtime New Haven duo, The Furors.)

Tom Hearn, front and center, with The Big Fat Combo.

Tom Hearn, front and center, with The Big Fat Combo — March 2, 2013, the Old Dublin, Wallingford, CT. Coincidentally, Lou’s 71st birthday.

And Tom’s also a photographer extraordinaire. He shot a great many photos of the early days of the punk scene — lots of Debbie Harry, lots of Ramones — and some of his shots wound up in Punk, the magazine started in 1975 by fellow Cheshire refugee John Holmstrom and Legs to chronicle a Lower East Side music scene that didn’t have a name … at least until it came time to figure out what to call the magazine. Mr. Hearn, oddly enough, was so low-key about his work that it didn’t occur to him to get around to showing it until about seven years ago.

Anyway, Big Red called to ask me if I want to contribute any stories, musical lists, etc. to, the website whose nucleus is Please Kill Me, the acclaimed 1996 oral history of punk by Legs and Gillian McCain. Several writers are contributing items to the site.

Yeah, I know, another non-paying thang. But at least it’s people I know (or at least know of), their hearts are in the right place, and they’re not getting paid, either.

Anyway, I cobbled these first tidbits together a week and a half ago — grabbed them from some fold in the memory bank — the day Lou Reed turned 71 and originally posted them as two separate items on my Facebook page. So anyway, whether Please Kill Me picks this up or not, this might be the start of something new on my blog. I figure hey — Lou was the cover boy on the first issue of Punk; why not start this new trip with Lou as well?


Lou Reed Story No. 1

Late January 1997. In my time as the New Haven Register’s entertainment editor/music writer. A cloudy, wintry midafternoon early in the week. A phoner with Lou in advance of his show the first week of February at the now-shuttered New Haven Palace. About a half-hour long. One of hundreds of interviews I did with the rich and famous and legendary; you’d swear I was some sort of starfucker if you saw the list of people I talked to back when I was someone.

It was kind of a weird interview, and I was blissfully unaware that Lou had a way of fucking around with writers, either out of annoyance or sport. At one point — I forget where this came from — but he said to me, “I am so fucking cool that you will never, ever know how cool I am.”

Anyway, he must’ve realized I was playing it straight with him and maybe asking not-so-stupid questions, so he told me, “I want you to take this number … It’s (name forgotten) at Warner Bros. Records. Tell him I sent you and to send you a copy of ‘The Best of Loma Records.’ I want you to listen to a song. It’s called ‘Stay With Me’ by Lorraine Ellison.” So I did.

Loma Records was a short-lived L.A. soul label; the biggest hit the label produced was J.J. Jackson’s “But It’s Alright.” But Ike & Tina recorded for the label, too, as well as The Enchanters, The Three Degrees, The Marvellos and The Mighty Hannibal. And Lorraine Ellison, a Philly girl who died in 1983. Warner Archives’ (pre-Rhino) The Best of Loma Records: The Rise and Fall of a ’60s Soul Label arrived a few days later. It was two CDs and 50 songs. But only one mattered: The most fiery, most impassioned ballad in the history of soul music. Her screams from deep in her heart put all of that Mariah-inspired curlicue noodling shit to the shame it deserves.

Lou’s concert? There had been an ice storm that day, the house was only about a third full, and those who did go (like me, who had to chop a half-inch of ice off the windshield) deserved a medal for just getting there. Instead, Lou was petulant, played a short set, finished with an insultingly perfunctory “Walk on the Wild Side” and left. Was kind of a dick, really. But his recommendation, and that Lorraine Ellison song, made up for a multitude of sins. And it’s lasted a lot longer.

Lou Reed Story No. 2

An August Saturday evening, I believe 1998. I needed to get away from New Haven. Why be lonely and depressed in New Haven when I could be lonely and invigorated on a nice night in the Village? So I drove in, parked the truck on Sixth Avenue and walked and people-watched.

Eventually walking back down Bleecker Street west of Sixth, I saw something out the corner of my left eye across the street at the south corner of Cornelia. Two lovers staring and smiling that googly, laser-locked smile that two people in love give each other when they’re in that trance space where they’re the only two people in the universe and everyone else has disappeared. That’s sweet, I thought. Then it registered who the couple were — it was Lou and Laurie. Badass Lou and Epitome of Cool Laurie. It seemed as if they were 16. And then I realized I was staring, intruding on their private moment. I continued back down toward Sixth. Just a pretty cool random moment in that most random of cities.

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