END OF THE WALK: Saying Goodbye To Lou Reed By Ted Cantu

The world went a little more silent on October 27, 2013. Lou Reed died after complications of illness and even though I knew the end was coming I dreaded it. It was more than losing an era it was a loss of authentic artistic expression. When Lou died he took with him a lot of mystery from that epic time period and quite frankly a lot of unanswered questions. I have no clue about how cool it was to be around in his presence during the age of Warhol or the Exploding Plastic Inevitable.

Actually I don’t even know if it was even that cool because a lot of what I read was completely frightening. There was heroin, and other drugs. But there was the art too created by Andy Warhol and the POP movement. That movement took everything around it and elevated it to unprecedented heights. The visuals attracted the young and hip Hollywood elite like Dustin Hoffman. It also attracted the strange like the Superstars, transvestites, and people who were looking outside of themselves for definitions. With the drugs came certain death ala one Edie Sedgwick, the “IT” girl of 1965. Others followed…..

With the demise of Lou went the dreams and desires of the Silver Factory in New York and the wild tapestries of personalities that cascaded through a blurry drug induced haze. Those people – for what it’s worth… are dead too. Well, not all of them but quite a few of them have left our mortal coil.

The band he founded was The Velvet Underground and they were really an independent kind of thing. I am not going to bore you with all the expressions that other writers have written about. You know the kind of crap I am talking about…  “Not many people saw the Velvets but everybody in that audience started a band….”. You can read about that kind of stuff in the Village Voice. I am going to go off the map and talk about the band from a personal perspective.


Now Lou was around a long time and already making history when I was just entering into this world.  I am not going to bore you with exact dates but enter into this quagmire with rough narration. Warhol Superstar Ultra Violet talks about how Warhol met the Velvets and it had something to do with a rooftop party at St Marks Place. There was no guard railings and stoned kids could have easily have slipped off the rooftop of the building onto the sidewalk below. This intrigued Andy Warhol immensely. Even then there was a danger around the band…. That’s how the two of them met one another. Or at least one interpretation of it.

Others say that the two of them co-created one another but that is up to debate. Who created who. Was Andy Warhol trying to capture the manic energy of Lou Reed and the Velvet Underground? Or was Lou Reed trying his best to match the music energy up to Warhol? I don’t know…. It’s been decades since I was formally introduced and I still am clueless about it. Lou and Andy are both dead now. All we have is regurgitated accounts of snapping journalists who get paid to say the most expected things.

Shortly after the horrifying events of 911 I almost ran into Lou Reed – physically. He wasn’t going to move out of the way. There was only two of us on the cold wintery Chelsea sidewalk. He was shorter than I expected. I’m 6’2” and he was wearing a black leather jacket and his hands were in his pockets. He wasn’t going to step out of my way, maybe he was lost in thought, maybe I looked like the kind of yuppie he detested. I had to step out of his way and let him go past me. I should have said hello…. But I was too star struck. I knew that I was having another famous moment. I never know what to say to celebrities that I admire when I meet them candidly on the street. Maybe Lou knew I was star struck…… or he didn’t care less.

That sort of attitude makes you admire him all the more. Damn.

The questions in my head were exploding all over. I mean why on God’s green Earth were artists like Britto making headlines and other artists like Kostabi and Keith Harring prints selling all over like wallpaper? Why was all this original art by Warhol and underground music like the Velvets shoved under the rug…. Those guys had fire and redefined a time. I don’t want to take away from contemporary fine artists. But there wasn’t much danger in the art or music I was finding. I have to admit to you that I was artistically dead in the 90’s because I couldn’t find any real fire to shove into my heart and make me feel alive.

The Velvet Underground and the Warhol crowd made me feel truly alive…. But who inspired who?


New York has always been dangerous. I don’t need to stand here and tell you that. Sure it has been gentrified over time and waltzing through the busy streets of Time Square is a lot like a stroll through Disney World. But I knew in the early 80’s it was horrifying. There were addicts all over. Heroin was openly sold in the streets and it was the first time I ever laid eyes on real junkies and prostitutes. Chelsea and SOHO were war zones.

When, “Midnight Cowboy” was filmed in New York the producers latched onto the strange Warhol scene and made them a centerpiece that defined the art movement at the time. It aptly captured what that was at that moment. Because of the explicit drug use and language and not to mention the overall theme the film originally earned an X rating. You can get a glimpse of the desperate age all of those characters existed in. But you have to look very closely because the scenes don’t really go into deep explanation.

There were many dark corners in the music. They reflected the environment that was around them. That included the curious and strange Hubert’s Museum in Times Square. This was  bizarre dime museum that had been a staple of city life since 1925. Once inside one would find a collection of real freaks including Zip the Pinhead from the film, “Freaks”. There was a flea circus and living human deformities. I had read in a book about the late comedian Andy Kaufman, (Latke on the ABC show Taxi) that he would skip school and frequent this place to visit the freaks. There is a rumor that this was the place where strange folk singer, Tiny Tim was discovered.

In the ugliness you would find beauty. But you would have to look very closely. There was no doubt that the beauty you would stumble across was true and real. A pure white light. I cannot say for certain but the song, “Sunday Morning” tells me this… and I could be way off course. I have no navigator in any of this and either do you. The poets, the guides, the leaders the ones who created this maze of thoughts, feelings and emotion have all left us.

“Heavenly wine and roses…. Seem to whisper to me…when you smile….”, utters Lou in the segue in, “Sweet Jane”. This moves from some sort of tribute to an adoration. In the middle of the sweetness there is hints of lost souls, hopelessness, desperation and maybe more drug use. REM recently mentioned that they were really unsure of what some of their songs were really about. Billy Joel has mentioned this too when he talked about when he wrote, “Vienna”. Even though this song is ambiguous at best that didn’t stop the Cowboy Junkies from covering the eeriest version of it from the, “Velvet Underground Live 1969” album. This same version appears again in pop culture in the Quentin Tarintio film, “Natural Born Killers”.

Talking about this to people always seems to get a lot of knee jerk reactions. Not all of them pleasant. I mentioned this time period and Reed to my aunt who grew up around that time period of all things and to my horror she blurted out, “WHO THE FUCK IS LOU REED?”
I haven’t had a proper visit with her since. I stopped going over there for anything back in the mid 90’s.

But her input might have been somewhat helpful but then again maybe not. I know that when Warhol and the Velvets came to Ann Arbor they played at the Hill Auditorium. I used to go there for concerts and saw INXS and Echo and the Bunnymen there. Warhol and co. came with a stage and light show called, “The Exploding Plastic Inevitable” and I have no idea what that was even all about. The accounts I read about were all kind of sketchy. Some say it was a concert by the Velvets. Others say that Warhol and film maker Paul Morrissey ran bizarre film footage over the band while people danced. I have seen pictures of this. On the back of the original pressing of the MGM release of, “Andy Warhol – The Velvet Underground with Nico” shows a the band playing with film images over them.

That right there sold me on the band. I knew they were pluralistic… that was the term we had to use at the time because in the late 80’s my art professors didn’t know any better. What they were trying to say was that the band was a multi media band. It was very mechanical. My question about the show and what actually went on there, (aside from drug taking) will always be a mystery. I have seen videos on YOUTUBE that someone uploaded a few years ago but there is no sound to them. I can tell there are people dancing around and lots of strobe lights. Most of the video is very dark and poorly shot. They must of danced on the stage because this was an auditorium with lots of seating. There was no place to pull this off. This set up never made any sense to me.

I have read an account that when Warhol and the band left town their bus broke down on the city border of Ann Arbor and I would want to guess Chelsea? This was a small independent book published in Ann Arbor so I guess it is true I don’t know. This was also the only place I ever heard this story. The author claimed that when the cops showed up they threatened to tow the bus. So the whole crew got out of the bus and had to physically push it over the city limit line just to avoid a ticket.

I can’t imagine that the tour made any money. This mostly spread the message about what this group of people were doing as artists. If anything it defined the time. A few years before these artists hit the road they were visited in Manhattan by Jim Morrison and the Doors. Now by all accounts I read Morrison loved Andy Warhol and hanging out with film maker Paul Morrissey. Fellow band mate Ray Manzarek was actually afraid of this late night art troupe and referred to them as vampires. You would have to be pretty out there to scare off the Doors back in the 60’s.

I once read the Beatles were to get you to where you wanted to go. The Rolling Stones were what you listened to once you got there, (as you imbibe substances and what not) and the Doors were what you listened to once your mind was completely blown. And these were the guys who were afraid of the Andy Warhol – Lou Reed ensemble.


The Velvets also played a place called Max’s Kansas City. You can read about the specifics of what this place meant to certain people in other sources. I am going to stick to the rough narrative. The place was a haven for drugs and sinister people. I am talking about hardcore dopers, junkies and killers. Sid Vicious and his famous junkie girlfriend Nancy Spungeon of the Sex Pistols fame would frequent this place. We are talking about serious bad vibes and energy in this place.

If you believe everything you read you might find this interesting. I had read in the Mothman articles about a weird encounter with the real Men in Black. One of these guys, (or aliens – whichever you believe)  came into Max’s and ordered a steak but couldn’t figure out how to use a knife and fork. The waitresses account said that he was skinny and very bug like and not very human looking. She followed him out into the street but he had vanished…..

That’s the kind of energy I am talking about…..

This crap…the stuff you got today…. this stuff you guys call, “Rock and Roll”…. Is bullshit. There is no danger in any of it. It has been sanitized for your protection. Maybe that’s a good thing. I mean look how the Rolling Stones turned out at Altamont Speedway after being lead through the darkest forces by Brian Jones.


Michael Stipe and REM came to Ann Arbor in 1987, roughly 20 years later only they played nearby Crisler Arena. They were huge Velvet Underground fans as well as the whole alterna rock movement. This included Television from the CBGB 70’s era. This show was to support the, “Document” tour. This tour and the album did two things. It revived multi sensory shows to the mainstream on a large scale and it opened the door to alternative radio. I was relieved when REM showed up. I was being force fed endless doses of Heart, Aha, Bruce Springsteen and other drivel on the mainstream radio.

It was only after REM came on with this tour did the radios open up to current bands that mattered like The Replacements, The Pogues, The Red Hot Chili Peppers, and more. REM borrowed the idea of a large light show and a return to the core sounds of what made them who they were. They also released a second album at that time called, “Dead Letter Office” and on it were covers and B sides by bands like The Velvet Underground, Television and Aerosmith.

Just like the Exploding Plastic Inevitable there is little footage of this tour available. I have checked YouTube and cannot find any footage of this epic tour. There was lots of mechanical things that had to work to make this effective. There was large projections over the band during the concert and it was mesmerizing. I knew that when I was watching it that it was something historic.

In 2011, REM called it quits…. They could have kept on playing as far as I was concerned. They were talented and interesting. But they felt that they had accomplished and finished what they had committed to do.


Warhol is dead. So is Lou Reed. Edie Sedgwick dead….. by her own misguided hand. Jim Morrison drank himself to death. Even the second generation of POP Art is pretty much deceased. Basquiat… don’t ask…. Keith Harring died of AIDS. Even the galleries are clueless. They want to sell prints and most of them don’t care about the history. The true tale is etched into the street and brick walls energetically trapped waiting for someone to untap them and set them free.

I’ll never know what it’s like to lose a good friend to heroin or to wake up next to a dead body. This happened to Sid Vicious and Nancy Spungeon in the UK. This also happened to Edie Sedgwick’s husband. How horrifying and dark that must be.

At night I used to cut through SOHO catching a ride home after working in the city. I would find myself looking at the Hotel Chelsea which was a notorious hotspot for the Warhol crew. This would always trigger off a sick feeling in my stomach. I heard all the stories about the Beat Generation, the suicides, the murders but I got to say that energetically that place always scared the piss out of me. I used to try to avoid it but sometimes I would get sidetracked and not pay close attention and end up looking at it as I crossed a nearby street.

Lou Reed’s music was more than just something you listened to pass the time away. It wasn’t angst ridden battle cry music like THE WHO, or in your face R&B like the Rolling Stones. It certainly wasn’t the feel good synergy of the Beatles. When you played Lou Reed and the Velvet Underground you were looking deep into someone’s soul.

If you approached it at the wrong time of night or from the wrong source of feelings you often prayed for daylight. This was a soundtrack to someone’s sordid life. And now that landscape. That crusty, burning hulk of a city that is New York doesn’t even exist anymore. A lot of the unspeakable ugliness has been removed. Gentrification they call it. But you and I will call it expensive. The shadowy world these people moved around in no longer exists in the way that it was originally written about. It is hard to see it but New York is still there. We just live in a different time.

It’s the end of the walk for Lou Reed. This was a man who truly did walk on the wild side of life. It’s a miracle he survived all of it. I will miss him.


MAY 2014

Saying Goodbye to Lou Reed and the End of the Walk on the Wild Side. The Velvet Underground, Warhol and the Exploding Plastic Inevitable Tour - 1967 Ann Arbor, Michigan.




“A VISUAL ASSAULT: REM Dissected Scene By Scene

The bottom video was shot in 1989 and is the closest thing I could find to what the original show opener was like in 1987. This was a departure for REM as much as it was for the audience. Just when you thought you knew the band they changed on you in a new and exciting way. It would take some time to recognize them once again. In the case of, “Document” the album had to grow on me. I noticed this sort of thing happening with the Smiths too.

There was one sequence in the video, not shown in this edition, when the words – “Want” and “Need” come on screen. The words flipped interchangeably and morphed into a strobe that said, “Need Weed” and I remember the crowd going a bit wild over that. This was Ann Arbor after all. There is some talk about the set list being accurate. I do not believe, “Orange Crush” or “Pop Song 89” was performed in 1987. Those songs were released after REM went to Warner Brothers. “Document” was the last album created under the I.R.S. Records label.

There is another version of, “The One I Love” done on the live tour. Stipe starts out with a slow intro and for a minute I thought the whole song would be done slow. It then kicks into the tempo we all know. The stage was also bathed in an eerie red light. How this song got perceived as a love song I’ll never know. It was about a sick love obsession.

Over the years I hear the young kids go, “Oh who cares about that stuff, REM was long before my time.” Trust me, you wish you were there. This show was nothing but historic.

REM in 1987 and the Birth of Alternative Radio in Ann Arbor, Michigan - Crisler Arena >>>>>

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