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Always Back to the Rain

My friend Tony sent me a text on Sunday, October 27 at 12:44 pm. I’m looking at it now on my phone: “Oh, god. Lou Reed…” I’m also looking at a picture of Reed I have here on my desk. It’s dated November 27, 2000. Another friend took the picture somewhere in New York that fall. Kelly asked Reed if it would be OK, and he said yes, but he told her to do it quick. Looking at the photo now, I wonder where he and Kelly are standing. There are two potted plants behind him, a doorway, a black wrought-iron chair. He is wearing a black leather jacket, a black t-shirt, and glasses. He is not smiling and, from a certain angle, he looks more like David Johansen from the New York Dolls than the Lou Reed on the cover of Transformer or Berlin or New York.

Since Reed’s death I’ve wanted to write something about him, but I’ve hesitated, since the last thing the world needs is another story or essay about Lou Reed from a fan who never knew him. My Lou Reed story is not remarkable: I discovered the New York album when I was a high school student in the late 1980s, then slowly made my way back to the Velvet Underground. The first time we played “European Son” in the car my dad thought something was wrong with his brakes. “I like the other one better,” he said. “Which one? New York?” “That one,” he said. My dad, a judge, once made the Hartford Courant for quoting a line from Tom Waits’ Rain Dogs in one of his decisions. He and I also traded texts about Lou Reed. I think he responded to the news by listening to his favorite track, “Nobody But You,” from Songs for Drella, Reed and John Cale’s 1990 tribute to Andy Warhol.  

Reed’s death conjured other memories for me of New York in the 1990s, my dream of New York when I was in my twenties in graduate school in Connecticut and visiting my friends who’d moved to the city after graduation. I see this picture of Lou Reed and, instead of thinking about high ...