As someone who has been trying to make the case that there’s an important and under-recognized connection between the New York School of poets and Lou Reed and the Velvet Underground, I know that for some skeptics, one nagging fact gets in the way: Reed rarely, if ever, specifically mentioned Frank O’Hara or other New York School poets when he talked about literature (and he talked about literature a lot).
So my ears perked up when I heard the moving speech Patti Smith gave last night to mark Lou Reed’s induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Smith (who I’ve also discussed in connection with New York School poetry) recalls a night when she had an hours-long conversation with Reed (while he sat in a bathtub dressed in black, of course) about a whole host of topics — including “the struggles of those who fall between genders,” political corruption, the glories of old amps. “But most of all,” Smith said, “he talked about poetry. He recited the great poets — Rupert Brooke, Hart Crane, Frank O’Hara.”
It may not be surprising, but there’s something wonderful about the idea that Reed once sat in a bathtub all dressed in black reciting O’Hara’s work. And, more broadly, that he did indeed include O’Hara in his own pantheon of poets.
It’s also not surprising that Smith’s tribute connects Reed, first and foremost, to poetry in general: “He spoke of the poets’ loneliness and of the poets’ dedication to the highest muses … Lou was a poet, able to fold his poetry within his music in the most poignant and plainspoken manner… True poets must often stand alone. As a poet, he must be counted as a solitary artist. So, Lou, thank you for brutally and benevolently injecting your poetry into music.”
You can also read the touching and beautiful speech given last night by Reed’s widow, Laurie Anderson, here.
In other Lou Reed news, a few days ago Reed’s sister, Merrill Reed Weiner, published a very interesting piece about her brother, in which she tries to set the record straight about Reed’s troubled childhood and psychological struggles, their parents, and the electroshock therapy he was notoriously subjected to as a teenager.