How do rock stars age?
That question never entered my head 26 years ago when I butt into the front
of the line at a Reed show at the local hockey rink in Kingston, Ontario,
Canada, eh (halfway between Montreal and Toronto). I had hair down to my
waist, and we sat in the front row, and smoked a few, loved the warm up
band, Hall and Oates, who at this time had not decided their style, but were
putting on an amazing show. Oates with his 6" platform boots, and those
great harmonies shook us up good, but we were waiting patiently for the Rock
N' Roll Animal, his current nomenclature.
Earlier that afternoon, I had walked into the Holiday Inn to see Lou sitting
at a table all by himself, and he looked bad, like he was going to be sick.
I had never seen a real live dope freak from one of the world's biggest
cities, close up, but I knew and loved his music, and appreciated his
attitude. It was one I could easily emulate, but I didn't really have a clue
where to get any heroin. He looked like he could use a batch.
Move forward to 2003. Here he is in Toronto, on this warm June night jamming
with a crowd of baldies and men with their children. White hair and glasses
Beginning the evening with a slow version of Sweet Jane, and ending with a
hurried up Heroin, when he strapped on his guitar for the second or third
encore, he growled, "We came to play," and gave us 3 hours of non stop
music, plain and simple, a great gift to this city where SARS scares
predominated. Many in the room may have had tickets for the Stones in the
glove compartments of their BMW's, but they will probably be more apt to
remember this night, in the cozy confines of Massey Hall. I don't think he
ever considered not coming to TO, and it was never mentioned in the evening'
s performance, despite a constant banter with the audience between each
song. He was surprisingly avuncular, and came across as someone as happy to
be here as we all were to see him.
When you have survived the New York streets, like Lou, there are many
things that may kill you; a rare disease is not one of them. He has seen
many of his compatriots die on the front lines of the sexual and drug
revolutions of the past three decades, and he has been in the fore front of
them all, but with Lou, what it always comes down to is that it is about the
music, and the performance of the music. If it is in your heart, it will
come across on stage and in the records.
Not for public consumption
He brought with him Blues, rock, and jazz influences that may have always
been present just not for public consumption. We always knew he was one of
the finest New York Street Corner Poets of this or any other age, and he
makes reference to Burroughs this night in one of his many short diatribes,
and we must remember that Lou was always the non beat, beat, just another
category he embraced, but failed to make the final cut.
The band was aligned across the stage, Lou in the middle, of course, so the
audience had an exceptional view of each instrument being played. A back up
singer, introduced only as Lou's friend, Anthony, sat respectfully at his
chair, and added to the theatrical giving of this most holy event, a Lou
The thing that separates this man after all has always been his
communication skills. He sings about what influences him in this moment
only. What is cool to him today is Tai chi and Edgar Allen Poe and, "If we
can get our hands on one of the five copies of the Raven now available, it
will be worth a lot in twenty years when people finally get it", he said.
And in the song that most directly and literally speaks to this evening,
Twilight Burning, his tai chi master, currently traveling with him,
At 61 he is still a lean, mean machine, and a precise and generous band
leader, who knows how to play, write and perform with grace and dignity.
This performance shows Lou growing old with a vision of whence he came, with
irony and pride; and a vision of the future with awe and respect; and an
appreciation of the audience. and his place in the universe.
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