The tributes to the late Lou Reed have been everywhere since last Sunday — from the stage to the smart phone, and all appropriate places in between. But one of the more moving pieces we’ve come across is from someone who knew the icon as well as anyone — fellow rock pioneer Patti Smith. In the November 11 issue of the New Yorker, Smith eulogizes Reed in only 690 words, yet each one has an immense weight; most of the lines are fittingly poetic.
On Sunday morning, I rose early. I had decided the night before to go to the ocean, so I slipped a book and a bottle of water into a sack and caught a ride to Rockaway Beach. It felt like a significant date, but I failed to conjure anything specific. The beach was empty, and, with the anniversary of Hurricane Sandy looming, the quiet sea seemed to embody the contradictory truth of nature. I stood there for a while, tracing the path of a low-flying plane, when I received a text message from my daughter, Jesse. Lou Reed was dead. I flinched and took a deep breath. I had seen him with his wife, Laurie, in the city recently, and I’d sensed that he was ill. A weariness shadowed her customary brightness. When Lou said goodbye, his dark eyes seemed to contain an infinite and benevolent sadness.
As news of Lou’s death spread, a rippling sensation mounted, then burst, filling the atmosphere with hyperkinetic energy. Scores of messages found their way to me. A call from Sam Shepard, driving a truck through Kentucky. A modest Japanese photographer sending a text from Tokyo—“I am crying.”
As I mourned by the sea, two images came to mind, watermarking the paper- colored sky. The first was the face of his wife, Laurie. She was his mirror; in her eyes you can see his kindness, sincerity, and empathy. The second was the “great big clipper ship” that he longed to board, from the lyrics of his masterpiece, “Heroin.” I envisioned it waiting for him beneath the constellation formed by the souls of the poets he so wished to join.