Posts Tagged ‘patti smith’

Performance Diary: “THE POWER OF THE HEART: a celebration of Lou Reed”

December 19, 2013

lou reed card 212.16.13 – The invitation-only tribute to Lou Reed at the Apollo Theater was a beautiful event – a classy, intimate, surprising blend of musical performances, spoken testimonials, film and audio clips, and multi-faith spiritual expression. Welcoming music came in the form of a guitar jam between Marc Ribot and Doug Wieselman. The program officially began with Rabbi Levi Weiman-Kelman performing the funeral prayer “El Maleh Rachamim.” Laurie Anderson opened and closed the three-hour ceremony with very personal recollections of her life with Lou. She talked movingly about his final days, his last words, his last breath, his last gesture. They had immersed themselves in Buddhist meditation, so she and her community  observed the 49-day period of practices after someone dies, according to the Tibetan Book of the Dead. The memorial at the Apollo took place on Day 50, which is dedicated to the liberation of the soul of the departed. And she said they’re very clear and strict about “no tears,” weeping seen to be confusing to the soul passing through the bardo.
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Accordingly, this was an evening of much celebration and laughter, emotion and sentiment but no tears. There were lively reminiscences by Lou’s sister Meryl (aka Bunny), producer Hal Wilner, Julian Schnabel, Ingrid Sischy, the Velvet Underground’s Maureen Tucker (reading a message from John Cale), and the surgeon who performed Lou’s liver transplant, Charlie Miller, who was hilarious and touching and apparently stitched up his famous patient to the beat of “Walk on the Wild Side.” Early on, Patti Smith sang “Perfect Day” accompanied on guitar by Lenny Kaye, and she took the lead for the all-hands-on-deck finale, “Sister Ray.” Emily Haines of the band Metric sang “All Tomorrow’s Parties,” Debbie Harry did “White Light White Heat,” Jenni Muldaur sang “Jesus,” and the Persuasions (who opened for Lou’s first European tour) came out to croon a gorgeous a cappella rendition of “Turning Time Around.” John Zorn’s sax solo represented Lou at his most abrasive and improvisational. Philip Glass sat down at the piano and played while the rabbi sang and Hal Wilner translated the Kaddish. For me, the musical high point was Antony performing “Candy Says” to Marc Ribot’s simple acoustic guitar accompaniment – fitting for Lou’s song about transgender Warhol diva Candy Darling to be sung by a gender-queer performer who clearly understands its existential self-disgust from the inside (“Candy says I’ve come to hate my body/And all that it requires in this world”). It seemed curious to me that only the Persuasions sang a song written after 1973 — Lou made a lot of albums and wrote some good songs after Berlin, but I suppose it’s a recognition of how solid those early Velvet Underground songs were and still are.

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I would guess Hal Wilner had a hand in amassing the various amazing film clips that conjured Lou’s presence, starting with an excerpt of “Waiting for the Man” (live in concert during his dyed-blond days) and including several chunks of a very funny interview in which he talked about why he lives in New York, what he hates about Long Island, what scares him about Sweden, designing his own eyeglasses, etc. I’d forgotten that Lou was in Paul Simon’s movie One Trick Pony, but we watched the whole clip, in which Lou plays a record producer imposing egregiously bad arrangements on Simon’s character’s album. Then Simon himself came out to sing “Pale Blue Eyes.” Two radically different audio clips were also highlights of the evening – Lou as a kid singing “Santa Claus Is Coming to Town” and then the unedited original studio demo of Lou strumming guitar and singing “Heroin,” still an astonishing song. Laurie remarked that Lou wrote his lyrics very fast, sometimes in the middle of the night, and never changed them, believing in “First thought, best thought.” Which, she admitted, she found infuriating, as someone who labored and worried over every single line.

As if the images of Lou Reed — Mr. Rock and Roll Animal, Mr. Street Hassle, Mr. Metal Machine Music — wearing a kippah at the Wailing Wall and practicing Tibetan Buddhism weren’t spiritually eclectic enough, we witnessed testimonials and demonstrations of t’ai chi from his teacher Ren GuangYi, his student, and his community. (It was fascinating to see how easily the 21 form t’ai chi moves could be adapted to the tune of “Sister Ray.”)
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A rich full occasion. I was delighted to share it with my friend Judy Mam.

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In this week’s New Yorker

March 28, 2012

Hilton Als lets us know that he loves Jesus, the same way Patti Smith does, but boy, does he not love Des McAnuff’s production of Jesus Christ Superstar on Broadway.

Rebecca Mead provides a coolly factual portrait of Christine Quinn, who may well be the next mayor of New York City.

David Sedaris writes a Personal History essay about his favorable experience with socialized medicine (specifically his dentist) in France, in contrast to current American preconceptions: “One thing that puzzled me during the American health-care debate was all the talk about socialized medicine and how ineffective it’s supposed to be. The Canadian plan was likened to genocide, but even worse were the ones in Europe, where patients languished on filthy cots, waiting for aspirin to be invented.”

But the highlight of the issue by far is “The Transition,” an excerpt from the great Lyndon B. Johnson biographer Robert A. Caro’s next volume microscopically detailing the events of the morning of November 22, 1963. Even though the outline of that infamous day in American history is known to one and all, not so well-known aspects to the story are:  the brewing financial scandal LBJ was facing (quickly squashed when he became president), exactly how miserably he hated being Vice President, what happened inside the cars in the presidential motorcade in Dallas, how delicately thoughtful and solicitous LBJ was of Jackie Kennedy, and all the logistical details that led up to his being sworn in after the assassination. A must-read.

Then there’s the cover by George Booth, titled “Rite of Spring.” As Andy noted, what the hell are we supposed to think is going on here?

In this week’s New Yorker

October 16, 2011

Travelling abroad for two weeks, I finally got used to and even learned to like reading The New Yorker on my iPad. I don’t think it’s just because I was on vacation and had plenty of time to read that I found these last two issues to be really strong anthologies of articles. The most recent issue was chock full of good stuff, starting with Barry Blitt’s wonderful cover illustration of Steve Jobs checking in with the concierge at the ultimate Genius Bar.


And it continues with Nicholson Baker’s lovely tribute to the guy responsible for “being able to carry several kinds of infinity around in your shirt pocket” and the device Baker describes as “this brilliant, slip-sliding rectangle of private joy.”

Adam Gopnik contributes an illuminating salute to The Phantom Tollbooth, a children’s book I’ve heard about, never read, and never knew that the great cartoonist Jules Feiffer had anything to do with. Adam Kirsch, writing about H.G. Wells, reveals him to be a bad writer but a prodigious fornicator (a similar conclusion reached by Joan Acocella in her piece the previous week about Georges Simenon). James Wood’s essay on Alan Hollinghurst manages to be admiring and respectful while mercilessly exposing the novelist’s tics and careless repetitions. The publication of a long-lost Eugene O’Neill one-act reminds me of everything I hate about O’Neill — the bloated, unnecessary stage directions and the corny, outlandish attempts at reproducing dialect.

The center of the issue contains three smart, riveting, vastly different fact pieces. Michael Specter reports on how Portugal treats heroin addiction as a medical issue rather than criminal activity. Tad Friend’s story about Andrew Stanton, Pixar’s star screenwriter-director, reveals lots of good moviemaking detail. “He read and reread Lajos Egri’s ‘The Art of Dramatic Writing,’ which taught him to distill movies to one crisp sentence before making them. For Finding Nemo it was ‘Fear denies a good father from being one,’ and for Wall-E  ‘Love conquers all programming.’ ”

Best of all is Evan Osnos’s long, detailed, scary “Letter from Fukushima,” which recounts every step of how workers at the Daiichi Nuclear Power Station dealt with the dangerous destruction to the plant by the tsunami in March. Besides dropping in some fascinating geeky tidbits (nuclear workers willing to jump in and jump out of high-dose conditions are nicknamed dose fodder, glow boys, and gamma sponges), the article traces a few half-forgotten pockets of Japan’s nuclear history. I was only dimly aware of the impact on Japan of US hydrogen bomb testing in the Bikini Atoll. Osnos reports: “The ordeal caused a panic in Japan; a petition against further hydrogen-bomb tests secured the signature of one in every three citizens. it was the start of what became known as Japan’s ‘nuclear allergy.’ In less than a year, Japanese filmmakers had released Godzilla, about a creature mutated by American atomic weapons. ‘Mankind had created the Bomb,’ the film’s producer, Tomoyuki Tanaka, said of his monster, ‘and now nature was going to take revenge.’ Godzilla’s radioactive breath and low-budget special effects were campy to the reset of the world but not to the Japanese, who watched the film in silence and left in tears.”

The previous week’s issue (cover date October 10) had a similar trio of quirky business articles at its core — Joshua Davis on the inventor of the currency of the future, the bitcoin; Akash Kapur’s “The Shandy,” about a cow broker in India; and Calvin Trillin’s droll coverage of duelling jewellers in Toronto’s cash-for-gold business. I couldn’t care less about Taylor Swift but read every word of Lizzie Widdicombe’s thorough profile of her. (Okay, I was on a bus Florence to Siena.) But if there are only a couple of must-reads in the issue, one is very long (Jane Mayer’s report on villainous Art Pope, one of the major funders of all the worst right-wing Republicans coming down the pike) and one is very short (Patti Smith’s memoir about shoplifting the World Book Encyclopedia and getting caught).

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