My buddy David was a gay redhead with thick eyeglasses and he said Listen to this song, it’s the best song you’ve never heard. Recently out of the Navy and in creative writing at Warren Wilson College, my new buddy David had put “Satellite of Love” in the tape deck of his dirty Pacer as we shambled through the steeps of east Asheville looking for our man.
David swooped us past old Nebraska Crane-style houses as he searched for our man’s new apartment – the bottom floor of a two-story hippie domain with thirteen cats and a one-eyed witch who paid the light bills.
“Lou Reed saved my life once,” he told me as one of the witch’s three boyfriends instructed us to sit and wait on cat-covered rattan porch chairs … our man was temporarily indisposed.
The Velvet’s “Candy Says” had kept David from following through with a suicide plan one bone-cold night in Brooklyn. He’d been weirdly scheming a Hart Crane death and got loaded (a Lou Reed fave) and was about to do it when he hears the song oozing from a bar. The lyrics saved him.
“No lie,” he said as our man, shirtless, came out – hair wet, drinking from a bottle of wine, smirking. “I owe Lou Reed my life.”
On a sleety night in San Antonio, Texas I heard “White Light/White Heat” through my spongy Walkman headphones and this Jersey kid who wore his bandana on his head like a punk growled that Lou Reed is a faggot and I vowed at that moment to, when I got released from the Air Force soon, to dye my hair black and start wearing makeup.
“You looked like an idiot,” my buddy David said when I showed him the pictures. “I can go with the hair and eyes,” he added, “but you have the lipstick all wrong.”
We talked about drag queens – there aren’t that many who actually live that way every day – and the mindless absorption of nothingness that you get from heroin.
On a sunny day in March 1999, St. Patrick’s Day, I finally understood Reed’s Magic and Loss. I got it, first track to last, with the death of my father. A person dies who you always love and sometimes hate, the feelings roil; it can take years to sort it out. And this is why I replaced my busted cassette tape with a CD version, so I could keep listening to Lou’s anger and remorse. I had to, you know?
So I’ve come here now to celebrate Lou, and to praise him. Fifty times over what remorse I have because of his passing. I’ve got that good, good feeling because of what he gave us – music, understanding, mercy, pain, recovery, magic and honesty. And a lot more than that. He gave us an urban poetry, a moral spirituality, something we could hold on to, and listen to – the harmonies of his early stuff was a godsend, even if much credit for that goes to John Cale.
Lou was a hero who followed me around until I knew what to do with him, which was keep him right there where he always was: the Coney Island of the mind. A rock and roll heaven, a god who educated about life, culture, art, politics – especially New York politics. If I was an athlete who makes that kissed-fingers gesture to heaven, it would be for Lou Reed. Because when he turned blue … all the angels screamed.
Causes Sean Jackson Supports
PFLAG, Amnesty International, AA, Catholic Social Services