By Dale W. Eisinger
At five minutes to 1 p.m., a great shuddering tone cut through the dusky afternoon in the Lincoln Center Plaza: the clangor of Lou Reed’s feedback opening “The Blue Mask,” his song opening the album of the same name. Many of the two hundred or so gathered there for a public memorial for the rock ‘n’ roll legend looked stunned, as if it were a call to arms. Before many made sense of the sound, the noise solidified into a roar and dumped into the heavy beat that carries the track. It was a massive signal, a punch in the gut, and a saddening reminder of the force the music world lost on October 27 of this year.
There were few tears, many hugs, few homages (one man with pancake makeup and a black Stetson). Just many people of all ages, of all races, of all colors of hair, respectfully remembering a rock ‘n’ roll legend in the quiet company of one another. Embraces were common, laughter was much. Leather jackets and shiny, shiny boots were many. To name drop the downtown art scene faces dotted throughout the crowd cheapens the moment—this was about no one else.
It seemed slightly out of character when, during “Venus in Furs,” a man removed his belt and strapped it around his arm in a clear heroin reference. But then, it also seemed out of character when police ushered smokers onto the street—there was no dusky wafting of late rock ‘n’ roll nights here. This was a moment of purity, down to the air breathed. No speeches given, no covers of Lou’s songs, no Velvet Underground tribute bands, nothing other than Lou and his songs. When Nico’s voice entered for the first time on “I’ll Be Your Mirror,” an hour into the memorial it sounded a little funny for the first time ever.
Cheers and shouts and sing-alongs were saved for between songs: “Rock And Roll” after “Blue Mask,” then followed by “I’m so Free,” “Perfect Day,” “Waiting for the Man,” “Venus in Furs,” “Caroline Says (Pt. II),” and so on, down the line, Lou’s songs just louder than hell on a massive speaker setup dotting the plaza. Never has “Waiting for the Man” sounded more glorious than in 50-foot stereo.
As children so rarely do, it didn’t appear that any present understood the enormity of the occasion. They ran, they jumped, they danced, they laughed and screamed and spun and pushed each other on the ground. More than one parent responded with incredulity in the affirmative when asked if their kids are Lou Reed fans. “Of course,” a man in blue-tinted sunglasses and a small-brimmed bolero hat scoffed, before just as much as storming off. This makes sense: there’s no choice but for Reed’s music to pass down through the generations.
With each cut, as Lou’s voice bounced off the glass and concrete of his city and of the performing arts institution that has long venerated him, it seemed that, all along, the lyrics to his songs might have been about none other than Lou himself. “Without me, you don’t exist,” he sang on “Warrior King.” Looking around at the hundreds who had gathered there, feeling Lou’s legacy in the momentary unity of life and death, it felt that was the truth. He was the first.
Here’s to Lou.