Leave it to Danny Fields to sum up the monumental significance of Lou Reed: “The banana changed our lives.”
The New York rock luminary was referring, of course, to the Velvet Underground’s famous 1967 album The Velvet Underground & Nico, which featured the Andy Warhol-designed banana sticker on the cover and is popularly known as The Banana Album.
But Fields, who worked with Reed and virtually everyone else from the Velvet Underground era and beyond, hits on the essence of Reed, who died yesterday at 71.
“I have so many memories, but the only thing to say is that he was one of the great rock ‘n’ roll songwriters—my highest praise for anyone,” says Fields. “There would be no modern rock without him.”
Truly, Reed was revered by everyone from Miley Cyrus to Salman Rushdie, among the many who took to Twitter and Facebook to express their sorrow and gratitude.
Seymour Stein recalls signing his fellow Rock and Roll Hall of Famer Reed to his Sire Records label in the late 1980s.
“He recorded New York–his real ‘return’ album—for Sire, and I’m very proud of that,” says Stein of Reed’s celebrated 1989 return to form. “He also recorded Songs For Drella, his landmark tribute album to Andy Warhol [in 1990, with his Velvet Underground bandmate John Cale], for me. But he was more than just a recording artist or songwriter: He was a poet, and a seminal figure on the New York scene.”
Reed was also close to the late Brill Building songwriter Doc Pomus, and appears throughout the acclaimed A.K.A. Doc Pomus documentary.
“He caused me to sign another artist when he brought Little Jimmy Scott to sing at Doc Pomus’s funeral,” Stein recalls. “When I heard that voice I started to cry.”
Bill Bentley worked closely with Reed for many years, starting in 1988 when he was his publicist during the Sire period.
“What an artist!” says Bentley, who is now with Vanguard Records.
“He was a deep human being, deeply sensitive and with a hard exterior: He was a man of the streets, and people would come up to him all the time, so he had to be tough or get eaten alive. But he was really the sweetest man.”
Bentley, who executive-produced Reed’s live album Animal Serenade , said that even up to the end, he and Reed were discussing future collaborations.
“He was always forward, never looking back,” says Bentley, “and he never backed down from anything–and I learned from that, too. He was the highlight of my career.”
Bentley further recognizes Reed as “the ultimate rock ‘n’ roller.”
“Not only did he believe in his music, but he believed he could make a difference. And nobody loved rock ’n’ roll more than Lou: It saved his life.”
Reed’s love for his city was also paramount, notes Bentley.
“We were leaving the Letterman Show in the fall one time and walking toward the Hudson River, and he gasped and said, ‘God, I love this city!’ and it shook me to the core, because I realized where he got so much of his inspiration. But I put him up there with anybody: Dylan, Lennon-McCartney. He was the equal of anyone.”
Singer-actress Tammy Lang, who as Tammy Faye Starlite has been starring in the acclaimed original musical theater piece Chelsea Mädchen about Nico, the Velvet Underground’s legendary female vocalist on The Banana Album, says that in performing many of Reed’s songs in the show, “it feels like you’re speaking Shakespeare.”
“That’s the beautiful feeling you get,” she adds, “because they’re so rich—and you want to do them justice.”
She singles out a verse from The Banana Album’s signature Nico song, “All Tomorrow’s Parties,” as “my favorite verse in all of songdom–heartbreaking and suddenly apropos”: “And what costume shall the poor girl wear/To all tomorrow’s parties/For Thursday’s child is Sunday’s clown/For whom none will go mourning/A blackened shroud, a hand-me-down gown/Of rags and silks, a costume/Fit for one who sits and cries/For all tomorrow’s parties.”
Subscribe to my ventwing.com pages and follow me on Twitter @JimBessman!