The Brilliance and Callousness of Lou Reed

Lou Reed would’ve been 76 years old today.

His music resonates with listeners and still inspires other musicians around the world. He’s also been widely known for being a total asshole, which I can personally vouch for you.

I got hooked on the rock band at a young age, which inevitably led me to Reed’s solo stuff and the wonderful bizarre art world of Andy Warhol. The low sultry vocals of Nico had me trying to hoarse my voice for hours and the intense and passionate subjects of Reed’s songs pulled at my pre-pubescent heartstrings and angst (probably intensified by the brewing hormones…).

I would wear screen-printed banana shirts, danced and walked the catwalk at Pittsburgh’s Warhol Museum’s annual Youth Invasion and talked about “Venus In Furs” like I actually understood what the song was all about. What a cool kid, am I right?

I was even still a huge fan after I got the brunt of his heartlessness.

When I was about 12 years old I fell terribly ill. I was throwing up everything I ate or drank and my stomach hurt so badly I couldn’t move. Lucky for me, it was just appendicitis. Unlucky for me, while the nurses were trying to convince me that it was just my first period and that I was now a “woman,” my appendix burst spreading its infection all over. I was hospitalized for three weeks. I couldn’t eat, so I was fed through an IV and I had a tube going up my nose, down my throat and into my stomach fleshing out the infection, so I also couldn’t talk.

Not really a way a young girl wants to spend her summer vacation.

Little Elena @ Children’s Hospital

They tried removing the tube once and I was still full of infection so they had to reinsert it. During the operation I woke up while they were stitching me up and frantically panicked while they held me down and finished up. Don’t get me wrong, I couldn’t feel anything and I was heavily drugged out, but waking up to that was alarming for a 12-year-old. So you can imagine how distraught a mother would be. That same evening Lou Reed was coming to the Andy Warhol Museum to give autographs. My mother knew I was a huge fan, so she set off to get me one.

She was the last person to arrive, since she was coming straight from my operation. With tears still filled in her eyes and the Children’s Hospital visitor sticker still on her chest, she finally reached Reed’s signing desk.

You know what that asshole did? He told her he was done giving autographs.

She cried so hard right in front of him, telling him about how her daughter is in the hospital and how she was such a huge fan, etc. He still refused.

God bless my mom—she looked at him dead in the eyes and said, “well then I’m taking this pen.” And snatched the pen he was singing with all day right out of his hand and she stormed out.

The story and pen were a great distraction for a little girl in the hospital. And even after all that I would still want to listen to “Satellite of Love” or “Sunday Morning” while I was lying in my hospital bed. Even now, 25-years-old, I still can play The Velvet Underground’s Loaded or Lou Reed’s’ Transformer over and over again. I even believe it was a great lost to music when he passed in 2013 and I was crushed I’d never be able to see him live.

So, does his musical brilliance make up for the fact that he was an asshole to a hospitalized pre-teen? You can be the judge.