Since Lou Reed passed away Sunday, I feel like I’ve been reading nothing but remembrances, reminisces, and reassessments of his incredible artistic career, to say nothing of the various experiences friends and acquaintances had with the famously obstreperous man himself. (Is it me, or is that word coming up with strange frequency tied to his name? NB: It’s me; I Googled it. It comes up twice.)
For me, my abiding memory of Lou Reed will always be the time I saw him at the Kitchen, wearing New Balance sneakers and waiting near the bathroom for Laurie Anderson while holding her purse. It’s just such a human image, you know?
But I didn’t know Lou Reed, never said a word to him, and was in the same room as him maybe a half dozen times. I’m not part of Lou Reed’s orbit and though I’m sad to see him gone, I won’t belabor the nonexistent connection. What inspired me to write, actually, was returning to Lester Bangs’s legendary interviews with Reed, and in particular his famous 1973 interview for Let It Rock out of the UK. (You can read it here at the Guardian.)
Re-reading it today, I was struck by how in-the-moment it reads. Bangs isn’t necessarily one of the people we associate with New Journalism, but read it for yourself–it’s about as intense a narrative interview as you can get, from Bangs’s unsparing depiction of Reed’s self-destructive boozing to his willingness to put himself into the narrative, from recording his torture of the blitzed rocker after a mediocre show, to his own almost sentimental experience with a way-too-hip nine-year-old for a denouement.
My mind immediately went to Gay Talese’s legendary Esquire profile “Frank Sinatra Has a Cold,” which is easily one of the most revered magazine stories ever published. Talese was of course refined and arty in a way I doubt Bangs could stand; it’s like comparing Nelson Algren and Truman Capote. But both are such intense, sensory, and subtle experiences. The difference is that Talese reads like he spent weeks finessing the hell out of that piece, while Bangs’s reads like he spit it out in one rash take while that little brat at the end is bugging him.
Either way, I found myself reading some fantastic journalism today, which reminds of why I do what I do at the same time I find myself despairing that I’ll ever write something half as good as these brilliant pieces.