The most remarkable aspect of the cavalcade of tributes that have been written in the wake of Lou Reed’s death last weekend is that just about everybody—including his collaborators and friends—has written about him with a genuine sense of awe. That’s how powerful and influential a personality Reed was, and that’s how deeply he touched those who were closest to him.
Such is the case with Patti Smith, Reed’s sometime friend and fellow downtown denizen. In a lovely, poetic tribute published by The New Yorker, Smith talks about hearing of Reed’s passing, reflecting on New York in the ’70s, and connecting him to a long cavalcade of poets. She talks with great passion about running across Reed while she was building the Patti Smith Group. “Within a few years, in that same room upstairs at Max’s, Lenny Kaye, Richard Sohl, and I presented our own land of a thousand dances,” she wrote. “Lou would often stop by to see what we were up to. A complicated man, he encouraged our efforts, then turned and provoked me like a Machiavellian schoolboy. I would try to steer clear of him, but, catlike, he would suddenly reappear, and disarm me with some Delmore Schwartz line about love or courage. I didn’t understand his erratic behavior or the intensity of his moods, which shifted, like his speech patterns, from speedy to laconic. But I understood his devotion to poetry and the transporting quality of his performances.”