It is March 2 and some interesting people were born on this day. The wonderful Alvin Youngblood Hart is 50 today. John Irving is 71 today. The genuinely great Mikhail Gorbachev is 82. John Cullum, the fine musical theater actor, is 83. Theodor Seuss Geisel — Dr Seuss — would have been 109 today, but he died at a reasonable age. And Kurt Weill would have been 113. All of these men are or were greater than the man I want to discuss.
When I was younger, I loved Lou Reed and the Velvet Underground. Like many people, I was inspired by Reed. I remember Iggy Pop claiming he got into music after seeing the Velvets because he realized that like Reed, he too was ugly with limited talent. I don’t mean to rag on the man. He’s a pretty good songwriter and what’s more important, he has written about interesting things. The real problem with him is his pretense to be a real poet. He’s at his best when he lets his id fly. When he overthinks something, it means disaster because Reed isn’t a great thinker.
Another aspect of Reed is that he’s an asshole. When I first got into him, I researched him, which is SOP for me. And in those few interviews that he did, he always came off as a total dick. I remember him ranting about how he was a published poet and how people ought to respect him more. (I too am a published poet, and in better journals than he was in 1972.) Then I read Diana Clapton’s biography of him, which was no kind of hit job — she was a fan. One of the most detailed chapters was an interview with a young guitarist who toured with Reed. His treatment of the young man was absolutely terrible. And then there was the whole thing about Reed not allowing Doug Yule to be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. (I think that Yule is the real hero of Loaded.)
So while I loved Reed’s music, I was well aware that he was no kind of decent human being. And as I wrote and performed music, I had recurring dreams in which he would appear and abuse me in various ways. This mostly took the form of telling me that I was a no-talent and that I should give up. And that was doubtless good advice!
After a couple of years during which Reed basically never performed (once at the Bottom Line, as I recall), he came to California. He was performing at the Great America theme park. So my friend Will and I went. We are wandering around the park waiting for the concert and we come upon Reed, surrounded by four beefy men. They are all looking up at the Edge, a free-fall ride. So I walk right up to him. I have this ability. I am literally as threatening as a mosquito, so bodyguards don’t even seem to notice me. Lou looks down at me. He is not pleased. He looks at his bodyguards like, “What the fuck?!” I absolutely don’t know what to say so I ask for an autograph. He frowns and sighs almost hard enough to blow me over. “You got a pen?” he asks. I pat my pants. He shrugs, turns, and walks away.
It was a wonderful moment because it was the same dynamic in my dream: dismissive and bothered. This isn’t surprising, given that I knew the kind of guy he was. Some artists love fans because it makes them feel valid, but artists like Reed need to trivialize fans because they make them feel less valid — like teen idols or something. Of course, Reed isn’t that famous. I doubt that 1% of the people in the country would recognize his face. Perhaps 5% would recognize “Walk on the Wild Side,” and frankly, that’s because of David Bowie and Mick Ronson.
The other important performer from that time was Jonathan Richman, who was also a huge Velvet Underground fan. Admittedly, Richman has on average been a disappointment. He has a very poor work ethic. But his best work is better than Reed’s best. Plus, he never tortured me in my dreams. And I’ve met him many times and he is a very friendly guy. That isn’t to say that he’s an angel — just that his particular demons don’t require him to dump on everyone around him.
I always thought that Wikipedia had a mechanism that automatically updated the ages of people. But this isn’t the case. People apparently have to do it manually. Justin Bieber’s age was updated at midnight East Coast time. Lou Reed’s birthday got updated during the writing of this. John Irving’s birthday hasn’t been updated.
Antoine-Frederic Gresnick lived at the same time as Mozart and composed pieces that can easily be mistaken for him. He was born today in 1755. Here is his Symphonie Concertante in B-flat Major. It is delightful:
 I still love this song, but I can have a hard time listening to it now. How could they allow some of the notes to be so out of tune?! I don’t care that much about pitch and I don’t have that great an ear, but jeez!
See also: Lou Reed Sowed and Reaped for 71 Years.