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In MemoriamReflecting on Lou Reed

A four piece band plays in from of a glass wall through which a nighttime city-scape is visible. A large image a man wearing sunglasses hangs on the glass wall.

photo by Derek Meade

I suppose it was in a way appropriate that when I received texts and news feeds on Sunday morning about Lou Reed’s passing, I was about to fly home from Las Vegas, where on Saturday night, our commissioned performance/film project, 13 Most Beautiful: Songs for Andy Warhol’s Screen Tests, was presented as part of the Life Is Beautiful festival. We commissioned Dean Wareham and Britta Phillips to write music for the Screen Tests subjects, and one that they were immediately drawn to was a Lou Reed Screen Test from 1966. The song that Dean & Britta chose to pair with Lou was the unreleased Velvet’s bootleg, “I’m Not a Young Man Anymore” also written in ’66.

One of the more surreal and gratifying moments of my time at the museum, was at Lincoln Center’s Allen Room, where the 13MB project had just its third presentation in January 2009, when Dean & Britta and band performed that song, with Lou’s Screen Test looming large above the stage, back dropped by a glimmering Central Park, with Lou Reed and Laurie Anderson seated in the audience (see photo in Dean’s Salon.com post above). I’m sure it was equally un-nerving and thrilling for Dean & Britta. Both Lou and Laurie were incredibly gracious and complimentary back stage. A moment that I won’t soon forget.

The 13MB project has been touring now for five years internationally, having played about 85 dates, which is a testament to the thoughtful work of Dean & Britta, though also speaks the to the appeal of the Screen Tests, the rare opportunity to see them in this context on a big screen, and Warhol’s general unwavering relevancy in contemporary culture. I hope this project has contributed to Warhol’s legacy as an artist and filmmaker and it’s only fitting that it features his friend and collaborator, Lou Reed.

I often think of what Brian Eno once said about how the Velvet Underground may have never been commercially successful, though everyone who bought the VU & Nico album formed a band. It speaks to the empowerment in a true DIY spirit that that album generated, subverting conventions of rock n’ roll of the time and the reason for its potency to this day. It is a phenomena that happens maybe once in a generation or a lifetime.