Patti Smith, singer-songwriter, charismatic ’70s youth child and all-round influencer of the punk scene has inducted Lou Reed into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Patti Smith’s form of rebellion stemmed from not partying like a punk rocker, and solely observing them instead.
One particular musician known for their obscure music was Lou Reed and Patti Smith worked alongside him. Smith had inducted The Velvet Underground in 1996 and her emotional speech served as a testament to her all-round admiration.
“Hello, everybody. On October 27th, 2013, I was at Rockaway Beach and I got the message that Lou Reed had passed. It was a solitary moment. I was by myself and I thought of him by the ocean, and I got on the subway back to New York City. It was a 55-minute ride, and in that 55 minutes, when I returned to New York City, it was as if the whole city had transformed. People were crying on the streets. I could hear Lou’s voice coming from every cafe. Everyone was playing his music. Everyone was walking around dumbfounded. Strangers came up to me and hugged me. The boy who made me coffee was crying. It was the whole city. It was more [pauses and tears up]… Sorry. I realised, at that moment, that I had forgotten, when I was on the subway, that he was not only my friend, he was the friend of New York City.
I made my first eye contact with Lou dancing to the Velvet Underground when they were playing upstairs at Max’s Kansas City in the summer of 1970. The Velvet Underground were great to dance to because they had this sort of transformative, like a surf beat, like a dissonant surf beat. They were just fantastic to dance to. And then somewhere along the line, Lou and I became friends. It was a complex friendship, sometimes antagonistic, and sometimes sweet. Lou would sometimes emerge from the shadows at CBGB’s. If I did something good, he would praise me. If I made a false move, he would break it down.”
One night when we were touring, separately, we wound up in the same hotel, and I got a call from him. He asked me to come to his room. He sounded a little dark, so I was a little nervous. But I went up, and the door was open. I found him in the bathtub dressed in black. So I sat on the toilet and listened to him talk. It seemed like he talked for hours, and he talked about, well, all kinds of things. He spoke compassionately about the struggles of those who fall between genders. He spoke of pre-CBS Fender amplifiers and political corruption. But most of all, he talked about poetry. He recited the great poets — Rupert Brooke, Hart Crane, Frank O’Hara. He spoke of the poets’ loneliness and of the poets’ dedication to the highest muses. When he fell into silence, I said, ‘Please, take care of yourself so the world can have you as long as it can.’ And Lou actually smiled.”
Everything that Lou taught me, I remember. He was a humanist, heralding and raising the downtrodden. His subjects were his royalty that he crowned in lyrics without judgment or irony. He gave us, beyond the Velvet Underground, Transformer and ‘Walk on the Wild Side’ Berlin, meditations to New York, homages to Poe and his mentor Andy Warhol and Magic and Loss. His consciousness infiltrated and illuminated our cultural voice. Lou was a poet, able to fold his poetry within his music in the most poignant and plainspoken manner. Oh, such a perfect day [cries]… Sorry. Such a perfect day. I’m glad I spent it with you. You made me forget myself. I thought I was someone else. Someone good. You were good, Lou. You are good. True poets must often stand alone. As a poet, he must be counted as a solitary artist. And so, Lou, thank you for brutally and benevolently injecting your poetry into music. And for this, we welcome you, Lou Reed, into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.”
Through the poetic words of Patti Smith, it feels as though we are all a close friend to Lou. And because his inspiring music dove deeper than the usual thoughts of musicians, he was able to articulate his beautiful words and make them a pleasant and sometimes outspoken tune. In Smith’s speech she revealed a dark side to Reed and the problems that he thought about, problems that were not seen as high-key as they would be now. He was a man that was well and truly beyond his time, and that was ironically what made him timeless.
There’s a simple clairvoyance in Lana Del Rey’s ‘Brooklyn Baby’:
“Well my boyfriends in a band, he plays guitar while I sing Lou Reed…”
Lou Reed’s music continues to inspire and be relevant through popular music and his legacy will live on as one of the most creative and talented musicians of our time.
Read about the Velvet Underground and Lou Reed in Fashion Industry Broadcasts Vol 14, Masters in Music, here.