When I first came to Los Angeles in my 20s I worked on the sets of a few movies as a unit publicist, among them director Allan Arkush’s 1983 rock musical “Get Crazy,” which starred Malcolm McDowell and Lou Reed. I was in awe of the taciturn legendary rocker, who turned up on the Wiltern Theatre set in beat-up jeans, boots and leather jacket, knew his lines and was a total pro. Arkush (“Heroes,” “Crossing Jordan”) sent me a remembrance of working with Reed after his death at age 71 on Sunday:
I vividly remember this conversation with Lou Reed on the set of ‘Get Crazy’ in 1982. I asked Lou when it first struck him that he was indeed ‘Lou Reed.’ He told me that starting with “Transformer” in 1972, people came up to him on the street all the time and shared drug experiences or stories of being on the fringe of societal standards of behavior and how his music had inspired them to these extremes. Hearing those personal tales of decadence just made him uncomfortable and he did not like being the “Lou Reed” connection for only those types of experiences.
He told me a story of when he was most happy being ‘Lou Reed.’ It was in Manny’s Music Store (a very famous place where guitarist Mike Bloomfield bought the Fender he used on ‘Like a Rolling Stone’ on his way to that session, and countless other amps, guitars and basses that mark the history of Rock were purchased). Lou was just hanging out, buying some new guitar strings, when he noticed that a young teen with his Dad were shopping for his first Fender guitar. The kid was 13 or so and practically shaking with excitement as had just put on the Telecaster and was being plugged in–a very serious part of the ritual of buying a guitar at Manny’s. Lou was wondering what this geeked-out teen would play to test out his momentous purchase. After some tuning and a squall of feedback from being turned up to 11, the boy launched into the opening chords to “Sweet Jane”; the riff turned everyone’s head in the store. In his typical dry and penetrating manner, Lou looked at me: “That’s when I said to myself, ‘Hey. I’m Lou Reed!'”
Catch up with four movies involving Lou Reed for free here. Check out the below videos of Reed on Charlie Rose in 1988, and Arcade Fire’s tribute to the late singer on NPR, with snippets from Reed classics “Perfect Day” and “Satellite of Love.”
For more than 40-years, Reed has been at the forefront of
American avant-garde music, beginning with creation of the Velvet Underground
in 1965, a band with artistic and political visions far beyond the popular
music of the time. Gritty and realistic, the brutal honesty in Reed’s lyrics
and sound made him a cultural icon of the disenfranchised throughout the ’60s
and ’70s. With songs like Heroin and All Tomorrow’s Parties, he tackled harsh
urban realities. His Walk on the Wild Side surprisingly made it to the top of
the charts and has become a cultural classic about a taboo, hidden lifestyle.
Reed worked with other icons of his day — Andy Warhol, David Bowie, Laurie
Anderson. From punk rock to grunge, he has had an unparalleled influence on the
American music scene. Inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in the late
’90s and given the prestigious Hero Award by the National Academy of Recording
Arts and Sciences, he continues his life-long experimentation as both a writer
and performer. Originally broadcast: April 29, 1998. One hour.