Written by: Shirley Obitz
Nothing Compares to Lou
Edgar Allen Poe has nowhere to go living on death row in Tompkins Square Park
That was a song I wrote but never finished. Life. I threw batteries. I threw them out the window at cars. People— I hated. Lou was there. He saved my life. “You know exactly what you want, and you know exactly how to get it.” I heard him tell me this in a dream after he had died. People were always dying, but life with Lou Reed was closer to life and death than air. Lou likes the Big Sleep. There is no air in L.A…anyway….
We were living in Zurich in 1919 Lou, and I decided it was a beautiful evening to go out to the Café Voltaire. Lou had a new poem he wanted to recite called Nach Geschaftsschluss. He got dressed in his exquisite gold lame dress. I wore an emerald green gown, but Lou stood out the most. When we walked in, many French were there, the kisses Lou and I received. I’d say we’re better than any basket of bunnies. Lou spoke perfect German and stood up to recite his poem. The room fell silent as Lou had a charismatic and commanding presence. Oh, he was Wunderbar! Soon he was shaking his hips defiantly and went into the same poem in French, and everyone was tossing down cognac and blowing smoke rings. A piano could be heard in the distance as Lou began to introduce the poem, “Ce poeme s’appelle apres les heures.” Then he sang the poem over the piano tempo.
We had a naughty time in the Café that night. (I will get to that later.) Anytime Lou was there, he was the center of attention. All the gents wanted him, and all the ladies did too. “If you close the door, the night could last forever” the words rang in my head all night through the wine and the lips and the eyes everywhere.
We were too tired to walk home. We took a carriage back to the tower. I fell asleep on the way and dreamed it was New Year’s Eve, 1964, and we were riding on a banana like it was a horse, and we flew over the Statue of Liberty, such a giant lady who stood over a vast body of water. The applause was roaring over spirals of buildings placed on the island. Lou was a famous New York musical poet. “The Velvet Underground emerging, the Velvet Underground emerging, the Velvet Underground emerging, emerging…Emerging!!!” I kept hearing this voice submerging me as I tried to awaken. It kept repeating this phrase over and over. When I finally woke up in a freight, I could barely remember my name. I mean the dream.
Now, back in the ‘70’s –it’s battery time. The gas lines are odd and even. What day is it for me? “ Say hello to never.” Lou. Lou? Are you there?
I knew I was going to New York like everyone who knows the future does. I knew I’d see Lou again soon. I will take the train because, well, that’s just what writers do. I’d sleep and dream and write and arrive before I got there because I already knew the future. We all do, especially those who go to New York. Now, I do know that the cigarettes are more expensive in New York, and as much as I smoke, that is a problem but watching Lou light a cigarette is like watching arrogance born under a neon night. Lou has “Attitude,” so it is worth it. Lou looks good, too, even in bad lighting. Cigarette lit-light. He always looks good when he lit up. So good. Like moonlight. I can’t wait to see Lou again. I love to watch him from across a crowded room.
The background is his, and he is the impact, the only reason the backdrop exists. Lou holds the wheel, and everyone else is a passenger. Speaking of which, I was riding on the back of a motorcycle going up the hills to Altadena with this hippie photographer. (Lou just put out Coney Island Baby.) We got to the house (sort of like a cabin). I was there to model. The sun was setting and streaming through the pine trees letting golden rays shoot through the window. I was positioned in the sun, sitting topless on a built-in window bench while the photographer cooed directions, “turn to the light, perfect, tilt more, lovely, a little over, left, couldn’t be better, hold, lovely.” The money I made paid for my ticket and expenses to New York.
I looked around the apartment. His guitar was in the corner. His hands were under the covers. I heard the traffic outside as he slept. It was a very innocent time. I listened to a couple in the next apartment talking about Boy meets Boy. Then there was silence. I sat in a chair by the guitar and watched Lou sleep. I touched the strings of the guitar ever so lightly. Shh, not to wake him. In Dreams Begin Responsibility. It ought to have been. I flipped through a fashion magazine and decided what perfume I would buy. It will go well with the dress I found on the train. Lou and I are going to The Bottom Line tomorrow night.
Lou and I spent the sweltering New York summer of 1890 sitting, drinking whiskey and lemonade on the roof of our tenement. We sat inebriated and stared in silence at the rabble and garbage on Sixth Ave. Lou played music two nights a week. We spent glorious days walking the streets collecting books as we had done in Paris. There was the talk of a wonderful new society being built. People would live in a community of creativity and self-expression. This is something that was going around. Lou was a pioneer in this new design. It was called the Pleasure Society. People developed their own ideas and did whatever they felt like doing. It had no structure, only freedom, joy, sharing new creative thought. The memories I have of those times are so close to me now. Carnegie Hall was just built. It was the same thing, new ideas, new designs, the whole bit.
New York 1982
It was 5 Am. I was up. I couldn’t sleep. I got dressed, took the elevator down to the lobby. There was only the desk clerk there. A ghostly looking man in his thirties with a round face and an unfortunate underbite, I say unfortunate because if he didn’t have it, he would look just like Truman Capote, but because of this, it gave his face the look of a prizefighter. “Hi, Jimmy.” “Good morning.” “I’m going to get a coffee and a newspaper; would you like anything?” “No, I’ll be off at seven. I just want to go to sleep.” As I opened the glass door, the cold air hit my face, and I remembered I had a ticket to see Lou Reed tonight. It’s ok, I thought. I will take a nap later. I went to Nicks Coffeeshop and bought a coffee and a sweet roll. I picked up a paper and decided I’d read it in the park. By the time I got back, people were starting to come down. Mr. Rosenthal was in the lobby talking with Jimmy. He was a reserved gentleman in his late sixties. I didn’t know him, but I would see him now and again in passing. He was always polite and noticeably well-dressed. “He left early,” I said. “Yeah, he hopes it’s his last day of jury duty. He thinks so.” I took the elevator back up to five and sat at the kitchen table, basking in the morning sun. It was noon when I woke up. I stayed home the rest of the day just reading. At seven, I got ready and went down to catch the subway to the club. I loved this club. It was downstairs, underground. It was a smaller venue which made it warm and intimate. I enjoyed going by myself too. I ordered a Campari and soda and had a plate of cheeses with banana nut bread. A couple was sitting at the table next to me, and I could hear their conversation.
“But don’t you believe in love?”
“Love is like religion, completely illogical, but people want to believe.”
I snorted out loud at this. They looked over at me, and I looked down into my red drink.
“But haven’t you ever experienced that feeling, that feeling in your heart? How can you deny that?”
“I think that attraction between two people sets off a flood of chemical processes in the body and brain that causes one to feel relaxed, euphoric, exhilarated, energized, or what have you. And it is that very process that people interpret as an ethereal feeling they call love. Once those two people act upon this chemical reaction that they call desire or love, their bodies become in sync, or perhaps entrainment sets in, and they no longer feel that intense feeling labeled love but settle into a relationship based on shared experiences that initiated a bonding period and now they are ready to stabilize. That stabilization could be the biological instinct to procreate or the survival instinct not to be alone, or it could be the end of the relationship as they may feel like the love has dissolved.”
“I couldn’t live if I believed like that.”
“That’s why most people prefer to believe in love. Now mind you, this is only a theory. A theory that I hold. I am not claiming to have the answers or discredit your theory; I only ask you to think about it as I have thought about yours. In fact, our entire existence could be based on a chemical process that formed our being and pushed our mind into conceptualizing this existence in various ways.”
“Then, what about morality or evil or goodness or kindness that form our humanity? Where does that come from? Is that also a chemical process?”
“Story is validation of the things we can’t explain. For instance, in Frankenstein, why does our heart melt when the child gives the monster a flower? This is validation that we do indeed feel. We are always looking to validate our existence. Story validates one interpretation of reality. People hate because of their interpretation of a particular story. People fear because of the story they tell themselves. When the child did not fear the monster, it is because she had not been exposed to that story and because we had, it forced us to confront a false belief.”
“But doesn’t it also say that people are wicked and they kill what they don’t understand?”
“Yes, people do kill what they don’t understand but not because they are wicked but because they are in denial.”
“Denial of what?”
“Denial that they are not any more important than a flea. The flea wants to live, it too has a survival instinct, but people feel that they are more important and refuse to understand the significance of all creatures to the ecosystem. If there were a story to explain this, some people might alter their perception.”
“You mean have a change of heart?”
“That’s an expression you could use.”
“Another round here?”
“I think we’re ready, but when does the music start?”
“Lou Reed is coming on at eight.”
The low E string on the guitar began. It slid up the neck a whole step then the band joined in. Lou stepped up to the mic, the blue light hit his face.
“Waves of fear attack in the night
Waves of revulsion, sickening sights
My heart’s nearly bursting, my chest’s choking tight
Waves of fear, waves of fear”
It was 5AM when I got back to my apartment. I was totally in love with Lou Reed. And because of this, I was so high after the show I went walking for hours around the city with Lou’s music, Lou’s face, Lou’s hands, jacket, mouth, eyes blasting in my memory. When I got back, Jimmy was there. He told me Mr. Rosenthal had been stabbed to death in the courthouse bathroom by some maniac. He told me how it was strange that Mr. Rosenthal’s last words to him were, I hope it’s my last day. The Blue Mask, I thought.
The absence of
It is not darkness
Light is always there
Spinning world strikes
Us as so
Reflection of the sun
Darkness is only illusion
“It made me dream of Nosferatu…
A graveyard romance only get one chance…
small town girl“
Brandenberg Gate- Lou Reed
I loved roaming the alleys of Paris, meandering down the brick streets of the endless labyrinth of dark mystery and tragedy, folly and vice. I found it irresistible. I thought about Lou and how he, too, craved these things. Yes, you’re walking, and you could stumble in the dark on the turned bricks when you notice a small window way up high is suddenly lit one out of rows of blackness, and the soft yellow light behind a beat-up shade seems comforting, then without warning a scream is heard from somewhere near. You stumble on a garbage pail. You smell the dead decaying garbage and the fishbone carcass a stray cat is eating. Poems, poems, poems, it’s all a poem first waiting to be born again by the hand of the poet. It’s alchemy, an old hotel with crossbar elevators, musty carpets, and dusty rugs. I can become obsessed with some of the foulest and sometimes some of the most wicked of things. Behaviors are fascinating and curious; that’s what Lou said. I asked him if we were too afraid to call these peculiarities insanity. In the back of my mind, he said, I thought they meant you, my dear. He was so funny. So true. In the back of my mind, it is me.