By sheer coincidence, Dave Pirner found out about Lou Reed’s death on his way home from Cleveland on Sunday, where he performed at a Rock and Roll Hall of Fame tribute concert to the Rolling Stones. Cleveland is also where Pirner’s band Soul Asylum performed with Reed in 1995 for the grand opening of the Rock Hall – and that day, too, was oddly timed to a death in the Velvet Underground clan.
“It was my first time meeting [Lou], and I asked him a question about Sterling Morrison,” the guitarist in the Velvet Underground, Pirner recalled. “He looked at me real intensely and said, ‘You know he just died yesterday?’ I sort of just whimpered away. I felt like such an idiot.”
Twenty minutes later, though, Reed put Pirner at ease: “He came up and apologized, and went out of his way to make me feel better. I was really touched he’d do that, which was very different from the sort of curmudgeon reputation he had.”
When Reed took the stage with Minneapolis’ little-band-that-could -- in front of 50,000-some fans plus a TV audience with HBO – he yelled out, “This is for Sterling Morrison.” And with that, they launched into a full-throttle version of “Sweet Jane” (clip posted below).
Former Soul Asylum guitarist Dan Murphy – who was also traveling by air Sunday and heard about Reed’s death on a TV showing Fox News (“of all places to hear it”) – said the gig with Reed was “definitely one of the highlights of my many years in music.” He had even fonder memories of hanging out with Reed before and after the concert, including an interview for VH1 in a hotel room that doubly featured Iggy Pop, whom Soul Asylum also backed at that show.
“I didn’t know this, but their two camps actually hated each other back in the day, so they really didn’t know each other that well,” Murphy recalled. “They were very cordial and charming toward each other. Lou said he wished he had written ‘I Wanna Be Your Dog,’ and Iggy seemed very appreciative.”
Pirner also humorously remembered having dinner with Iggy and Lou, “and the two of them were lecturing me on mixing beer and wine, which seemed hilarious to me given their reputations.” He added, “He had a clear way of speaking the truth in his songs that was almost unromantic, but beautiful at the same time, and showed a real mastery of language.”
Said Murphy: “Lou was a big part of the soundtrack to our youth, especially [1974’s] ‘Rock ‘n’ Roll Animal.’ It was a real thrill to play with him. I think we sounded pretty damn good, too. I’m very proud of it, and very sad about the news. He leaves behind such a huge legacy as a songwriter, and an all-out poet.”