Saturday, July 19, 2008

Lou Reed, Rubén Blades

Lou Reed
Long Beach, Long Island

I met Lou Reed at Trident Studios in 1972 when he was recording 'Transformer'. David Bowie produced, Ken Scott engineered and Mick Ronson supplied the beautiful arrangements. By then, I’d progressed from “tea-boy” to “tape-copier” but I was still able to stick my head into the studio occasionally if a session looked interesting. Lou seemed pretty distant much of the time – valium, according to Ken – and occasionally I'd hang out at receptionist Dennis Richardson's desk and we'd watch him (unsteadily) negotiate the stairs between the studio and the control room in his platform shoes, wondering if he’d make the journey without falling over. He generally ignored us lesser Trident staffers and never said a word to me during any of the sessions.
On July 8th 1972, I went to see David play a Save the Whales benefit at the Royal Festival Hall with my friend Liz Arnold, who worked at Liberty/UA Records, a copy-room client. I copied copious Slim Whitman production masters so UA could release them in places like Belgium and Holland. Sometimes, she would slip me an LP or two from the record cabinet. Her boss was U/A's head of a&r, Andrew Lauder and it didn’t take long to figure out I wanted a job exactly like the one he had. Hey, I could read the music papers during by day and see bands at night! I was introduced to the music of Brinsley Schwarz, Man, Help Yourself, The Flaming Groovies, Nektar, Dave Edmunds, Neu!, Amon Düül, Cochise, Johnny Rivers and Eddie Cochran's album work thanks to Andrew and Liz and I’m forever grateful to the both for all the records/cds sent my way throughout the years. I still have them all, except the Cochise album which somebody ‘borrowed’ and never returned.
I’d blagged the Bowie tickets from either Don Hunter or Diana Graham at his management company, which is how we found ourselves sitting next to David’s mum. Most of the show featured songs from Hunky Dory and Ziggy Stardust (which had just been released) but for the first encore, David brought out Lou (in his first UK ‘live’ appearance) to join him on 'White Light/White Heat', 'Waiting For The Man' and 'Sweet Jane'. During on of these, David's Mum tapped me on the arm, leaned over and asked “who’s that weird fellow with all the make-up on?” I had to stifle a laugh, since both of them were caked in the stuff. In October, I went to see Lou at Kingston Poly where he played with his band, The Tots. At this show, I finally ‘got’ Lou and from then on, would try to see him at every opportunity.
Whilst at Elektra, I remember hustling an advance of the ‘New York’ album from Seymour Stein, whose Sire Records office was a couple of floors above mine. I rushed back downstairs with a sense of great anticipation and was about to press ‘play’ when there was a knock on the door and Rubén Blades stepped in. Now, in case you don’t know, Rubén is a remarkable man. While getting his international law degree at Harvard, he made 'Crossover Dreams', which started a distinguished film career acting opposite people like Jack Nicholson, Christopher Walken, Mickey Rourke, Robert Duvall, Bill Murray, Joe Pesci, Gary Busey, Elliott Gould our kind of actors! – and along the way, after starting in the Fania Records mail room, becoming one of the biggest, Grammy-laden stars in the world music world and running for President of Panama on his own Papa Egoro party ticket. He’s a killer performer and I loved working on 5 albums with him. He asked what I was up to and I told him I’d just got the new Lou Reed album – would he like to hear it? “Of course”, he said, so we grabbed a beer from the fridge, put our feet up and played the whole album through without saying a word. At the end, both of us were pretty speechless and thought it was Lou’s best solo album to date.
The year before, Rubén had written and co-produced 2 songs with Lou for his (first, and only) English language album, '
Nothing But The Truth'. While he prepared for its recording - always the multi-tasker - he took a lead role in 'The Milagro Beanfield War' and invited me to Arizona for a couple of days. It was my first time on a film set and Rubén introduced me to Robert Redford and Sonia Braga. Back in his rented apartment he picked up an acoustic guitar and played me a dark and very beautiful version of the Beatles' 'Baby's In Black'. I wish he'd recorded it for the album, but a somewhat changed arrangement showed up later on his 'Amor y Control' album. During rehearsals for the album, I cycled from my apartment on 23rd St. to SIR Studios on the west-side at 25th and as I dismounted, I rang the studio bell. 4 white guys approached and said "give us the bike". I said, "what for" and two of them grabbed it and set off down the street. I ran after them and grabbed the saddle. I don't know why I did that. What was I expecting? That they would apologize and hand it back? Anyway, shortly after, I picked myself up from the middle of the street with a throbbing in the back of my head. There was no one in sight. I went back to the SIR, was let in and went into the studio where the band were. There may have been a little blood on my head and the band stopped mid song and asked if I was ok. When I told them I'd just experienced my first mugging right outside, Rubén and the guys rushed outside to see if they could mete out a little street justice. When I get my cassettes digitized, I’ll playlist the unreleased, up-tempo version of ‘Hopes On Hold’ that Lou produced. I’ll probably not play the voicemail an apoplectic Lou left when I left a message telling him I thought the test pressing sounded dodgy. In the end, my experience as a mastering engineer at Trident paid off and Lou came around after I was able to articulate my problems with the sound of the pressing. A change was made and everybody lived happily ever after. I think he saw I was a record company person who knew what I was talking about - sonically, at least - and all encounters since have been respectful and, often, very friendly. Last time I saw Lou, I was surprised to receive a hug so big right in the middle of Greene Street that, if he hadn’t called me by name, I would have sworn he was mistaking me for someone else. The version of ‘Hopes On Hold’ that did appear on NBTT was a Tommy LiPuma-produced, synth-driven, rather disappointing and now dated, MOR ballad and unfortunately, someone else picked it as the first single. I went out to Long Beach on Long Island to watch the video get made. I never liked music videos much, but I always relished any opportunity to hang out with Rubén. Lou had a small cameo in it and must have been in a great mood because later, he showed a side of his personality I had no idea existed. During the ride back to Manhattan, after the shoot had wrapped, he did about an hour of what could be described as a contemporary ‘Borscht belt-style’ comedy routine that had Rubén, his actress wife, Lisa, Lou’s wife, Sylvia and I howling with laughter all the way home. I have some candid snaps of it – here - but this was one performance I wish I had taped. When he wants to be, Lou’s a hysterically funny guy. Who knew?
Ok, what else? Oh yeah, I got thrown out of a Velvet Underground show. For my birthday in 1993, I treated myself to a (reformed) VU concert at the Olympia, in Paris. Because this show was being filmed, Luna (who were supporting them on the European leg) was asked to sit this one out because their equipment would have gotten in the way of the cameras. Lead loon-er, Dean Wareham and I were given tickets to watch the show from a seat in the balcony, close to the stage. Both of us were feeling pretty, uh, ecstatic and the show was everything I had hoped it would be. At the end of the set, while the band were lined up, arms around each other’s shoulders, bowing and accepting the audience’s love, I took 2 photos with my 3-D camera. Apparently the flashes were enough to attract attention and it wasn’t long before someone grabbed me and marched me backstage, where my film - and the cassette upon which I had recorded the show - were confiscated by their tour manager, who had been kind enough to sort out my ticket in the first place. Talk about humiliating. I was very embarrassed and hoped Lou and John Cale, who played squash at the same Tribeca club where I played racquetball, wouldn’t notice me getting admonished when they came offstage after the encore. I don’t think they did, although I wouldn’t be surprised if they heard about it later. Hey, we all make mistakes. I had a habit of recording shows by people I liked, purely for my own enjoyment, of course. Later that evening, Dean and I found ourselves drinking in a mildly sleazy boîte called La Lily Tigresse, which was the inspiration for his song ‘Tiger Lily’.
The last time I saw Lou was on 9/11. My friend, singer Amanda Thorpe, had recently undergone knee surgery and one of her legs was in a brace necessitating the use of crutches to get around. She lived on Beach Street, way downtown, and that morning the phone rang and she asked if I could turn on the news and tell her what was going on, as she had heard this enormous crash and her tv just gave out static. I switched mine on to see that the world trade center had a huge, smoking hole in it and CNN was reporting that a ‘small’ plane was the cause. As I was telling her this, a second plane hit. Whoa! She asked if she could continue her recuperation for a few days at my apartment and could I come downtown to help her evacuate. “Sure”, so I threw some clothes on and made off for 7th Avenue where I was going to grab a cab, picking up some cigs at the Greek Deli near the corner. In the deli, a television was now reporting that the Pentagon had been hit by something, so it was clear (as if a second plane flying into the WTC wasn’t enough) the US was under attack. There were no cabs to be had, but Amanda’s apartment was close to Franklin Street, just 6 stops below 23rd, so I decided I’d take a train if they were still running and be there in minutes. Didn’t take long for a train to show up so I boarded and looked around. People were reading the paper as they would on any normal day. From conversations I overheard, it seemed like two or three people had heard something but they seemed unconcerned or oblivious to what really was going on as we sped towards the Manhattan's southern tip. When we shot past the Franklin St. stop, I thought I’d ended up on an express train by mistake and when we passed Chambers St, too, I thought something was definitely wrong. Then the train stopped, and stayed still for about 10-15 minutes during which the carriage I was in (towards the back of the train) started to fill with acrid fumes, a smell similar to what you’d get from an electrical fire. A light, blue-ish, thin cloud of smoke seeped through the car. There was nothing anyone could do except hope for the best. The train then spent the next 20 minutes or so shuddering forward, a yard or two at a time, with long breaks between each shudder. The smell of burning slowly dissipated (or we just got used to it) and after about 40 minutes, the train eventually pulled into Fulton St, stopping right at the beginning of the platform. We were instructed to walk through the carriages and exit the train at the front. There was no panic. Everybody, though somewhat weirded out by the whole deal, showed remarkable New York attitude/cool and we filed forward, disembarked, and climbed the stairs to the street. It had been a gorgeous day on 23rd St...sunny, warm, clear, the sky a rich, bright blue, but once we got outside, everything was completely covered in a fine, sandy coloured dust and bits of paper flew around like it was a kind of fucked up ticker-tape parade. Fulton St is approximately 6 or 7 blocks away from where the towers stood and by that time the south tower must have collapsed. People were running in all directions covered in dust, some bleeding, many carrying briefcases over their heads, wearing what was once their smart, work apparel. Everyone on the street looked like the zombies in 'Night Of The Living Dead'. Cops herded us away from the disaster site and soon I was at the South Street Seaport watching crowds crossing the Brooklyn Bridge on foot. I tried calling Amanda but the payphones weren’t working, so I set off on foot, in the direction of her apartment. I worked my way north and then west and had to convince 'security' that I had to get back to my apartment on Beach and after an hour, I got there. Amanda had her suitcase, a backpack and her guitar ready and we slowly walked/hobbled up Greenwich St, stopping into a bar on the way to watch, on tv, what was occurring just a few blocks to the south. Continuing up Washington St, we turned right onto Little West 12th and, just before we got to Pastis there, sitting at a table in the sunshine, nonchalantly drinking coffee with a companion was 'Mr. New York' himself, Lou Reed. An introduction, an exchange of pleasantries and a desire to not intrude made this chance meeting brief, but as we moved on we felt it was a brilliant moment in a ghastly day.
This week, the station’s playing Lou’s 'Endless Cycle', Rubén’s 'The Calm Before The Storm', Britta Phillips and Dean Wareham's 'Ginger Snaps' and Amanda’s 'Burn This House Down' from her brand new album, 'Union Square'.


Rich said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Rich said...

quite an entry. (ooooh. -ed.)

ht said...

thank shoulda seen what I left out!

viagra online said...

i love Ruben Blades, i thin he is the most singer and a very smart man.i like to hear about his goals.