The below ran originally on April 9, 2003 on MSNBC.com
I like Lou Reed the way most people I know like Lou Reed. I was intrigued and disquieted by “Walk on the Wild Side” in junior high, danced to “Sweet Jane and “Rock and Roll” in high school, and endured dark, devotional period in college which focused on The Blue Mask and Street Hassle. In grad school with lots of time to kill, I looked up his letters to the poet Delmore Schwartz, and made copies for my friends. But Lou has moved on and so have I. I still pick up his new albums sometimes but they almost always disappoint. His last concert at the Beacon Theater, a half-block from my apartment, was so awful I was relieved to go home while he was still onstage. Still, this is New York , so I have a story.
A few years ago I was in the Village Vanguard seeing the pianist Marcus Roberts when a beefy security guard who spoke no English blocked my path out of the men’s room. I was about to assert my God-given right as an American to leave any men’s room whenever I damn pleased, when I noticed the President of the Czech Republic (and a personal hero of mine) Vaclav Havel, leaving the club, trailed by Henry Kissinger and Lou. (What were they talking about before the set? NATO? The Velvets’ reunion? Henry’s fear of an international criminal tribunal?) Henry and Vaclav jumped into a limo, while Lou was stuck behind them in a jeep. I felt his pain, but I said nothing.
A few days later, I was telling this story to my close friend, Frank (not his real name) who lived out of town. He told me of the curse that Lou had cast on his life. I don’t remember all the details, but Frank was the Lou Reed fan to end all Lou Reed fans from the time he attended Columbia as an undergrad for about a decade and a half. That’s when Lou’s curse began to take effect. I forget the details but it was no joke. Frank would always put on one of Lou’s albums to mark the key moments of his life and something would always go horribly wrong. Girls would dump him; his wife had a miscarriage and I forget what else, but it was bad. He never listened to his favorite artist ever again. I tried to think of what life would be like if I felt forced to exile myself from Bruce Springsteen or Bob Dylan. I couldn’t bear it.
A few weeks later I got invited to a benefit party where Lou was going to do a poetry reading at George Plimpton’s house. I told Frank. He asked me please to not even mention Lou ever again, no matter what the circumstances. I apologized. This was serious. Lou came to the reading, and I considered telling him about Frank but it sounded too crazy. Plus, he seemed to be in a really bad mood, even for Lou Reed. He read his songs at an inaudible level, visibly wincing whenever anyone tried to introduce him around. He left within seconds of finishing. Lou is not, apparently, a schmoozer.