Better off than dead

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Once some magazine was interviewing Lou Reed and the reporter remarked on what a transcendent and serene song the finale to Lou’s masterpiece of hurt and rage and consolation over passed loved ones, Magic and Loss, was, and told Lou, “I could see them playing this when you die.” To which Lou answered, “When I die they’ll play ‘Walk on the Wild Side.’” Like Lou himself sings on Magic and Loss about his departed friend Doc Pomus at the older man’s funeral, “You would have made a joke,” and laughing in death’s face was Lou’s lifetime occupation. The acid wit about what others desperately wanted to keep alive was there the one time I interviewed him, as in his capsule eulogy for the re-broken-up Velvet Underground in the early 1990s: “The fun disappeared, and so did I.” We too spoke about Magic and Loss then, and he told me how he’d never put himself through such an endeavor again, but most of his masterpieces thereafter — like “Into the Devine” from Time Rocker and “Who Am I” from POEtry/The Raven — were about the absence of what we have to live without. Lou’s death this weekend is inconceivable, unacceptable, because his best work was all about how you go on — and he so loved the world that he gave us a definition of survival, just not his. “Go kill yourselves,” Andy Warhol’s diary adoringly remembered Lou telling a bunch of worshipful kids camped out on the street at his apartment, and Lou spent his career burning the bridge back to the past and rebuffing the sentiment that could make him settle down — while providing me and I’m sure many others with the strength and certainty to make sense and substance out of our own miseries. “Isn’t it nice when your heart’s made out of ice” he infamously, ironically sang, but this strength was not the power to be numb, but to fear nothing you can possibly feel.

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