Sunday, October 27, 2013

Magic and Loss

In the winter of 1996, I came back from winter break to find a yellow Post It on my dormitory room door.  The note had been dashed off in the excited hand of my old concert-going comrade, our resident Musicologist.  It read: 'McGraw, do you want to see Lou Reed in concert this Wednesday?'

When you're in college and you have the choice between seeing Lou Reed in concert, which may never happen again, or attending your Survey of Western Civilization class, which will happen four days a week, every week, you very politely give class the middle finger.  On that holy January day, we made the 4.5 hour journey from Athens, OH to Cleveland's Playhouse Square.  Had it been necessary, we would have driven to Mars.

I had no idea what to expect.  Lou was legendarily unpredictable as a performer, but it soon became apparent that he had left his comatose stage days somewhere back in the 1970s.  Lou was loud, his guitar was growling and his band was tight.  He had ditched the clean-cut, short-hair-and-spectacles look of his late '80s New York period for a glorious full-blown mulleted Afro.  He was the only man alive who could have gotten away with this style in 1996.

I don't remember every last detail from the setlist, but he did several numbers from his Set the Twilight Reeling album: Hooky Wooky, New York City Man, Finish Line and the title track.  He tossed in some classics, of course: Dirty Boulevard, Satellite of Love, Sweet Jane.  When at one point he admonished the audience to 'clap in time,' I would have sworn he was glaring right at me.  Notwithstanding my affront to the proceedings, Lou seemed to be having a pretty good time.

And when, in his second encore, the low twang of the most famous bass line in history started, that's when the crowd lost its marbles.  At last the band made its exit.  The curtain fell with the hall echoing 'Louuuuu.'  Had our rating system existed then, the show would have easily garnered 5.0 McBones.

I never did get to see Lou in concert again, one of the many reasons I count that night among the great blessings of my life.  I'll wager our Musicologist agrees.

Five lessons that Lou Reed taught me:

1) There's more to life than sports.

2) Gender is nonsense.

3) Graduating from college is fun.

4) Drag queens are superheroes.

5) New York is the greatest city in the world.

So here's my sendoff, Lou.  I'm not sure I have anything too profound to say, so I'll just say this:

Good night.

I love you.

I'll miss you.  

Most of all, thanks.  Here's hoping that clipper ship you ordered is waiting.

I wish that I was born a thousand years ago
I wish that I'd sail the darkened seas
On a great big clipper ship
Going from this land here to that
In a sailor's suit and cap
Away from the big city 

Where a man cannot be free
Of all of the evils of this town
And of himself, and those around
Oh, and I guess that I just don't know
Oh, and I guess that I just don't know 



Darin said...

"Magic & Loss." Very nice post. I believe Lou opened that show with "Sweet Jane" and ended with "Walk on the Wild Side." In wedged between where more classics, the new songs, and some hidden gems. I remember hearing some of those songs from the 80s, like "New Sensation," and just being blown away by how great they really were. The moment when he chastised the audience for clapping on the wrong beat by just yelling "Stop!" was hilariously incredible. The coolest man in rock n roll has passed on and will be missed.

McBone said...

As I recall (fuzzily), he did Satellite of Love and WotWS in his second encore. Unbelievable. And that's right! After scolding the audience for clapping out of rhythm, he just told us to stop. Awesome! Thanks for making it possible.