The South By Southwest Lou Reed Tribute

Richard Barone: "All Tomorrow's Parties"

Richard Barone: “All Tomorrow’s Parties”

Last week, as part of the SXSW music festival in Austin, TX, a four-plus hour tribute concert was devoted to the music and memory of Lou Reed. It was curated, pretty masterfully I thought, by Richard Barone and Alejandro Escovedo.

Neither are household names: as leader of The Bongos, Barone was one of the forebears of the Hoboken indie rock scene alongside The Feelies and Yo La Tengo, while Escovedo, of San Francisco punk pioneers The Nuns and Texas alt-country pioneers Rank and File, is a roots-rock icon and Austin’s mayor of rock’n'roll. But the show wasn’t about a parade of stars. It was a group of Reed admirers — some longtime friends, some just spiritual kin — gathered to celebrate the legacy of a great artist.

Rehearsal: "Sweet Jane"

Rehearsal: Barone and Escovedo hammering “Sweet Jane” into shape w/ the house band, including Lenny Kaye, Ivan Julian, Clem Burke, and Susan Voelz.

“We cast the songs like you would a film or a play,” explained Barone backstage on the day of the show. It wasn’t always what you’d expect, and not every part worked. But for four hours, it rarely flagged, and it was often sloppy and illuminating in a way that was very much in the spirit of SXSW, and rock’n'roll in general.

Highlights included Reed’s old pal Garland Jeffreys, who turned “I’m Waiting For My Man” into an Otis Redding-style r&b workout (cannily appropriate, as it happens), and jumped off the stage to finish the rave-up ending in the crowd.


Suzanne Vega did a gentle acoustic “Walk On The Wild Side” which was spot-on, casting the song in the tradition of folk-blues storytelling.

Suzanne Vega - "Walk On The Wild Side"

Suzanne Vega – “Walk On The Wild Side”

Sharon Needles, the gorgeous winner Season 4 of Ru Paul’s Drag Race, did a perfect reading of “Candy Says”

Sharon Needles

Sharon Needles

The Black Lips seared the Velvets’ “Run Run Run,” adding some upside-down guitar riffing for good measure.

Black Lips

Black Lips

There was an was an epic, roughly 30-minute “Sister Ray” lead by Steve Wynn (Dream Syndicate) and featuring a shitload of other guitarists, including house band yeoman Lenny Kaye (Patti Smith Group) and Ivan Julian (Richard Hell & The Voidoids). And things wrapped up, of course, with everyone on stage for “Rock and Roll.”

"Rock and Roll"

“Rock and Roll”

As Barone told me, getting rights to the songs would be too difficult to make an album out of the performance. But there are plenty of YouTube clips, including these two: Barone’s sweet “I’ll Be Your Mirror” and Lucinda William’s “Pale Blue Eyes,” probably my favorite two Lou Reed songs. Most of the time.


Springsteen on Suicide

photo by Bob Gruen

Suicide at CBGBs (photo by the unbeatable Bob Gruen)

Rolling Stone quoted Bruce Springsteen recently as saying “[Suicide] are underground masters,” and that “they should be in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.”

That’s a totally awesome statement. Will it ever happen? One can dream.

This from the coda of Love Goes To Buildings On Fire, about a DJ set at an Animal Collective show (by selektahs Piotr Orlov and Andy Beta):

After an encore, as the revelers filed out towards the frigid night and the year ahead, the DJs slip on a gentle acoustic number: A cover of Suicide’s “Dream Baby Dream” by, of all people, Bruce Springsteen. Springsteen played the song as a coda to nearly every show on his solo 2005 Devils and Dust tour. This particular version, a hypnotizing mantra-cum-lullaby-cum-benediction, was released on an import-only compilation right around Alan Vega’s 70th birthday.

Springsteen had always liked Suicide: he was especially impressed by the story-song “Frankie Teardrop.” When he was working on The River in ’79, he and Vega crossed paths up at 914 Studios in Blauvelt, where Springsteen had recorded so much of his early work. Vega and Marty Rev were finishing their second LP, which included “Dream Baby Dream. Bruce and Vega talked about rock’n’roll, taking nips off Vega’s flask. “You know, if Elvis came back from the dead,” Springsteen said later, “I think he would sound like Alan Vega.”

The Lou Reed biography

Reed performing with the Velvet Underground in the mid-'60s

Reed performing with the Velvet Underground in the mid-’60s (photo by Adam Ritchie)

It’s official. From the item in the New York Times. Needless to say, I’m thrilled.

January 7, 2014, 3:05 pm
Will Hermes to Write Lou Reed Biography

Farrar, Straus and Giroux has signed the Rolling Stone writer Will Hermes to write “Lou: A New York Life,” a biography of Lou Reed.

Mr. Reed, the singer and songwriter who first achieved fame as a member of the Velvet Underground, died on Oct. 27. He was 71.

In an email interview, Mr. Hermes said he planned to write a “full, definitive biography.” As for the subtitle, still tentative, he said New York City would “figure prominently,” in the book, “because how could it not? Reed loved the city deeply, based his adult life here, rooted much of his work here and was a huge figure in our cultural life. I think we have yet to fully measure the loss. He was one of the greatest artists of our generation.”

Alex Star, a former editor at The New York Times Magazine and The New York Times Book Review, acquired the rights to the book. Mr. Hermes’s previous book, “Love Goes to Buildings on Fire,” looked back at Talking Heads, the Ramones and other influential figures of the mid-1970s New York music scene.

And now: to work.

R.I.P. Lou Reed 1946-2013

Lou Reed with Patti Smith, John Cale and David Byrne at the Lower Manhattan Ocean Club, 1976

Lou Reed with Patti Smith, John Cale and David Byrne at the Lower Manhattan Ocean Club, 1976 (photo by the great Bob Gruen)

Reed performing with the Velvet Underground in the mid-'60s

Reed performing with the Velvet Underground in the mid-’60s (photo by Adam Ritchie)

Lou Reed died on Sunday morning. He was pop music’s Baudelaire – a game-changing modernist not just unafraid to go into dark places, but devoted to their exploration, which is distinct from glorification. He was a great artist, and his influence on pop music and culture is immeasurable.

As I wrote in Love Goes To Buildings On Fire, a book in which his figure looms large, he grew up on Long Island. And when he was a teenage troublemaker, after admitting a sexual attraction to men, his psychiatrist got his parents to sign off on some rounds of electroshock therapy in hopes of curing him of his deviance. They were conducted at Creedmore, a huge mental hospital in Queens; I used to ride my bicycle past their creepy, fenced-off campus when I was growing up.

Maybe it’s reductive to make too much of this. But holy fuck. When a culture says its OK to strap a kid down in a psych ward and pump electricity into his skull because he likes boys and tends towards “deviant” behavior, is it any wonder said brilliant kid dedicates his art to setting deviance a place at the table, and chipping away of the hypocrisy of this brutish culture?

Thank you, Lou Reed, for keeping up the fight.

From Love Goes To Buildings On Fire:

Lou Reed’s Transformer, produced by David Bowie and Mick Ronson, was released in November ’72. It earned its name: it transformed him from rock musician into rock star. In early ’73 the single “Walk On The Wild Side” was a radio staple, reaching #16 on the Billboard charts despite, and because of, lyrics that peeped through a dirty window at New York City’s gender-melting underground. Reed biographer Victor Bockris called it “the no. 1 jukebox hit in America in 1973,” which may well be true; it was definitely worth a quarter to play it in a diner or pizzeria and watch heads turn. Most listeners had no clue that the song’s characters— Holly the transvestite, Candy the blow-job queen, Little Joe the gay hustler, Sugar Plum Fairy the Harlem cruiser, Jackie the speed freak—were actual people: Holly Woodlawn, Candy Darling, Little Joe Dallesandro, Joe “Sugar Plum Fairy” Campbell, and Jackie Curtis were all members of Reed’s extended artistic family at the Factory, Andy Warhol’s salon/clubhouse/culture incubator, which at the time was located on the 6th floor of 33 Union Square West, just across the park from Max’s.

Reed was born in Brooklyn and raised in Long Island. He was moody, pegged as a problem child, and the summer after he turned 17, a psychiatrist convinced his parents to send him to Creedmore State Psychiatric Hospital in Queens for eight weeks of electroshock therapy, intended to cure him of his homosexual and anti-social sentiments. He attended Syracuse University, played in a rock band, took drugs, and studied with poet Delmore Schwartz—who he called “my teacher, my friend, and the man who changed my life.” He moved back home to Long Island and got a job as a staff songwriter and session musician with Pickwick Records, where met John Cale, an expat viola player from Wales. The two became musical pals and drug buddies, and Reed moved into an apartment with him at 56 Ludlow Street, south of Delancey, in the old Jewish ghetto of the Lower East Side.

The two formed the Velvet Underground in 1965 with two other Long Island kids, guitarist Sterling Morrison and drummer Maureen Tucker. They were all fans of raw r&b: Ike & Tina Turner’s “It’s Gonna Work Out Fine,” Eddie & Ernie’s “Outcast.” Reed also loved Ornette Coleman; Cale had worked with John Cage and, when the Velvets came together, was performing screechy, hypnotic drones with composer La Monte Young in the latter’s Theatre of Eternal Music ensemble. Their band name was swiped from the title of a paperback about suburban sex kinks plucked from a Manhattan gutter, and they made music where primitivism camouflaged brainy underpinnings, playing Reed’s bad-trip rock songs about s&m and heroin at the height of international flower power culture. Of course, their city marched to its own demented drummer. As critic John Rockwell noted, “Psychedelic weirdness never caught on very firmly in speedy, street-oriented New York.”

The Lumineers cover Talking Heads

Check this out.

A cover of Talking Heads “This Must Be The Place (Naive Melody)” by nu-folkies The Lumineers.

What do you think?

A Ramones Revival


Marky Ramone, who played drums with The Ramones for 15 years after Tommy bowed out, just launched a tour with his world-class Ramones cover band, which is being ably fronted by NYC art-punk Andrew W.K.

I saw the latter last week playing free-jazz piano with Sonic Youth’s Kim Gordon at the Brooklyn Masonic Temple, part of this month’s wild, polyglot Red Bull Music Academy series. In the words of Joey Ramone, which W.K. will no doubt be singing, New York City really has it all.

Keep the fire burning, dudes. Rolling Stone has more here.

DIsco babies: A nascent Chic

A 1976 clip of The Big Apple Band – basically Chic before “Le Freak” – attaching jumper cables to the nipples of The Bee Gees “You Should Be Dancing.” Awesome.

A stream of that Blondie chat

A chat with Blondie in NYC

I’ll be speaking with Debbie Harry and Chris Stein of Blondie on Wednesday, 6PM, at the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts at Lincoln Center, in the Bruno Walter Auditorium. It’s free, but the staff suggests arriving early as space is limited. More details here.

I’m especially excited that Stein will be sharing some of his b&w photography from the era. (Prints of his work, including the above, are available through the Morrison Hotel Gallery.)

Here’s an excerpt about the band’s birth from Love Goes To Buildings On Fire:

Deborah Harry was raised, like Patti Smith, in the Jersey suburbs. An adopted child, she was smart, restless, alienated, with beautiful features and dark brown hair. She defected to New York the minute she finished high school. She worked as a bar dancer in Union City, as a bunny-eared hostess at the Playboy Club on E. 59th Street, and as a waitress in Max’s, serving drinks to the Warhol demi-monde. Meanwhile, she passed through a number of musical identities. In ’69 she was a 24-year-old hippie-folk siren fronting The Wind in the Willows, who made a forgettable record for Capitol. A few years later, she joined scene-diva Elda Gentile in The Stilettos, a trash-camp, performance-art take on of ‘60s girl-groups like The Ronettes.

Chris Stein was an arty intellectual Jewish kid born to Eastern European parents and raised in Brooklyn. Kicked out of high school for having long hair, he wound up at Quintano’s School For Young Professionals, an art school for misfits at 154 W. 56th St. and 7th Ave, behind Carnegie Hall, where he was a classmate of Johnny Thunders. He began his adult sub-cultural life as a hippie, lighting out to San Francisco in ‘67 to catch rays from the Summer of Love, trekking up to Woodstock in ‘69. Back in the City, he played in various bands, one of which opened for the Velvet Undergound, and he took classes at the School of Visual Arts, including one in electronic music taught by Steve Reich. (“All that talk about polyrhythms went over my head,” he later confessed. )

Stein watched the Dolls come up, and occasionally played guitar with their glammy Mercer Arts cohorts Eric Emerson and the Magic Tramps. Through Emerson he met Elda Gentile—who had a baby with Emerson and later dated Richard Hell—and one night in the fall of 1973, Stein was invited to see the Stilettos perform. It was their second-ever gig, at the Bourbon Tavern, a dive on West 28th St. in Chelsea. The place was nasty, but he found one of the singer’s was sumptuous. Stein and Harry bonded, and the Stilettos had a new guitarist. They opened for Television at CBGBs in May of ’74.

By the summer, though, the group fractured. Gentile was out; Harry and Stein remade the band with Harry as its focal point. At first they were called Angel and the Snakes; after a couple of gigs, they recruited the Bronx-bred sister team Tish and Snooky (Patrice and Eileen Bellomo of The Palm Casino Revue, a cabaret show that had been running at the Bouwerie Lane Theatre across the street from CBGBs) as backup singers. Stein and Harry changed their band’s name to Blondie and the Banzai Babes. Their second guitarist was Czech ex-pat Ivan Kral, the bassist Fred Smith, the drummer Billy O’Connor.

This line-up was also short-lived. The downtown rock scene was small and incestuous; allegiances were mercurial. Kral defected to join the more promising Patti Smith Group in December, then O’Connor left for law school. At one point, in a pairing that might have pioneered synth-pop, Harry teamed up with Suicide’s Marty Rev for some jamming and recording. The project went nowhere, and the tapes, as far as anyone knows, were lost.

In early ’75, Blondie was auditioning drummers at Tommy Ramone’s studio on 23rd. A 21 year old from New Jersey named Clem Burke was on the stool, and Patti Smith drifted into the room. This wasn’t unusual; though Harry and Smith weren’t exactly friends, they knew each other.

When the band stopped playing, Smith, in her nasal come-hither sneer, says “Heeeeey, you’re pretty good. What’s your name?”

Harry stared daggers at her. Ivan Kral had defected to her band only a few weeks earlier.

“Patti,” she says. “I’m working with this guy.”

“Oh,” responded Patti casually.

Smith left. Not long afterwards, Burke auditioned for her, but didn’t get the job. He played his first gig with Blondie—who were still being billed in CBGB ads as The Stilettos—in March. That night, Fred Smith told his bandmates he was leaving to join Television. He would be replacing Richard Hell, who was tired of deferring to Tom Verlaine. Verlaine was in CBGB’s that night, Patti Smith with him. But they didn’t linger.

Fred Smith’s replacement would be Gary Valentine, a New Jersey fuck-up who liked to occasionally go out in drag and had a talent for songwriting. For awhile he lived with Harry and Stein in Harry’s tiny one-bedroom at 105 Thompson Street; Stein was subletting his own place on First Ave. and First Street to Tommy Ramone. Harry had a ’67 Camaro which opposite-side-of-the-street-parking rules had her or Stein moving back and forth in the early morning. But it was beloved; on summer days she’d drive the guys to Jones Beach or Coney Island, looking like a modern version of a Shangri-Las song where the girl had the wheels and called the shots.

While there was plenty of mixing, aesthetic lines were being drawn. There were the pop-rockers in one clique: The Ramones, The Dictators, The Miamis, and Blondie (and later, The Heartbreakers). And there was the art-rock clique centered around Patti Smith and Television, now fronted solely by her sidekick and presumed lover, Tom Verlaine.

The divide grew. “I may be paranoid,” Harry reflected in the wake of all the musical chairs. “but I think that whole clique wanted to destroy us.”

Thurston Moore’s New Band

No, it’s not free jazz guitar jizz, much as we we dig that. And it’s not Sonic Youth.

Chelsea Light Moving is Thurston Moore’s new rock band. As you might recall from reading LGTBOF, it’s named after the moving company started by composers Steve Reich and Philip Glass in the ’70s to earn cash while they were refining their minimalist epics. It doesn’t sound much like the music of either man. It does sound a little bit like Wild Flag, a bit like The Velvet Underground, a bit like Krallice, and a lot bit like the Youth. (Yep, that’s good.)

I’ve been listening to an advance of the new LP, which is out March 5, and I can assure you it’s some shweet rokk noize. And between the band name and some of the song titles—”Burroughs,” “Frank O’Hara Hit”—it’s also a bit obsessed with NYC art-cult history. Here’s the lineup:

Thurston Moore (gtr/vocals/songwriter)
Keith Wood (gtr)
Samara Lubelski (bass)
John Moloney (drums)

Listen to “Empires Of Time” here. And more tracks here.

UPDATE: Randomly enough, I ran into Thurston & Samara in Northampton MA yesterday afternoon (in Feeding Tube Records – where else?), and Thurston told me that he got the band name from Love Goes To Buildings On Fire, which he enjoyed. Whoa: color me three shades of flattered. At the moment, the entire CLM album is streaming on NPR.