(this was an Ebay description ten years ago!)
One evening late in 1975, Peter Stampfel and I went to a poetry reading down on Reade Street to see Camille O’Grady. I wanted to see her because Camille had been in our band, the Unholy Modal Rounders, before my time. I had seen her photo. She was tall and statuesque, with long black hair and strong shoulders. I had heard stories from my bandmembers Paul and Kirby: about her singing off key, about her carousing with Peter offstage to the detriment of the performances, and about Paul telling Peter they’d be better off with another guitar player. The best story was about the night Paul left the stage in the middle of a song because Camille had taken off her shoe and was holding it over Peter’s head, or maybe Peter was holding his shoe over her head? I imagine you had to be there. Anyway, for some reason a shoe was taken off and held over someone’s head, and that was it for Paul.
So here we were at Camille’s show. Her paintings lined the walls of a big loft. They resembled huge tarot cards, and she definitely had a warped talent. They were all pictures of bare chested guys with beautiful skinny bodies, in torment, run through with swords. Very Catholic. Many in the audience wore black leather, and so did Camille.
The reading was great. She had a S & M following, was a cult hero of sorts, and I could see why. And I could almost picture her in the Rounders - she must have given them a wild Catholic edge. Her poetry was really good, and she had great stage presence.
Lou Reed showed up for the reading. I was impressed. He dug her work, and a year or two later I saw her open for him at the Bottom Line. I think that was around the time of “Rock and Roll Heart”, when Michael Fonfara and Don Cherry were in his band.
After the reading, Lou was hanging around, sitting on the floor with a group of ten people. Peter said he knew Lou from a long time ago in the Village, so we went over to say hello. Lou was an idol of mine, big time.
A chubby black guy in black leather was offering his ass to Lou, saying how great it was. Lou wasn’t taking him seriously. Peter managed to butt in, so to speak, I got introduced, and after a little small talk, Lou said that he was interested in Peter’s views on the long range effects of speed. Lou was doing a study on this subject. So they made a date to get together at Lou’s house a few weeks later and, just because I was there, I got included in the invitation. Golly.
That’s how we got invited to Lou Reed’s house.
It was just before Christmas. Lou lived on East 52nd Street, in the block that dead-ended at FDR Drive, overlooking the river. We walked up the lonely block of giant luxury apartment buildings and found the address. When we got there, Lou was out, but we were let in by his roommate Rachel, who said we could wait, that he was expected shortly.
I couldn’t tell if Rachel was a man or a woman. Low voice, long hair, long fingernails, certain way of walking and sitting...Rachel was a lot like a woman. Anyway, he or she was both gracious and noncommittal, and so we sat and waited together.
The apartment was oddly and sparsely furnished. They had a tiny dog and a Christmas tree. The living room in which we sat had a big futon on a low platform, and a table and chairs next to a bookcase full of papers. We sat on those chairs. On a tripod by the tree was a new RCA video camera. By the RCA tv was an RCA vcr and an RCA stereo. (He’d recently renegotiated his contract with RCA.) Every room had a digital clock with numbers an inch tall. The front record in his cluster of albums was Aerosmith’s “Toys in the Attic”, which had come out that year.
Finally, Lou knocked, Rachel let him in, and he walked through the foyer into the room, wearing aviator sunglasses and carrying shopping bags. He nodded to Peter, then to me, and told Peter he should have called to confirm the appointment. Lou had a little time, but not enough to get into the real talk he wanted to have with Peter. The dog welcomed him home, and he baby talked to it. He reached into one of the bags and pulled out a plastic package. He ripped it open and took out a little rawhide bow, a present for the cute little dog, and we watched the dog run around with his new toy.
Then he reached in the bag and took out another purchase - a brand new pair of aviator sunglasses. He grinned, took the ones off his face and tossed them in the wastebasket by the door, and put on the new ones. He liked them a lot better.
He figured we were interested in him, and basically he just talked about himself the whole time. It turned out the bookcase by the desk was filled with clippings and professional career stuff, and he showed us some. Peter and I were well behaved, listening attentively and seeing what we were shown. Peter sat between Lou and I.
Lou cackled in glee at the way “Metal Machine Music” was already a collector’s item only a few years after its release. He was real happy with his new contract. Then he said he wanted to play us something, and walked over to the record player. He had two test pressings of “Coney Island Baby”, his album which was about to be released. On the song “Charlie’s Girl”, he showed us how one of the pressing plants had put the vocals out of phase at one point. He’d had to call his guy at RCA and get them to stop that plant’s production till they fixed the problem. He said it was a lucky he had good ears, because if he hadn’t noticed the mistake, nobody else would have, and it would have sounded like that in the final copies. We listened to it a few times. I did hear what he pointed out, and we nodded in agreement.
Very soon after that, Peter said he had to leave to meet someone, and I think I got to stay a little longer - there was a transitional scene as other people showed up and Peter left. I don’t remember much about the people who came in, but it was a couple, and the woman wore a short fur coat. Everyone was neat and hip.
The only conversation between Lou and me was:
Lou said, “What do YOU do?”
I said, “Play guitar.”
“So does everybody,” he said.
I was awestruck and shy. I sure didn’t tell him I was great. I didn’t even tell him he was great. I didn’t say any of the things I wish I had said.
Then they all decided it was time to go out and get something to eat. It had gotten dark out. They were off to the Carnegie Deli. I had about two dollars in my pocket, so I said I couldn’t go. We all got our coats, and walked out single-file. I was at the end of the line. I looked down as I passed the wastebasket, and there were Lou Reed’s sunglasses. I thought, “This isn’t garbage, it’s an artifact.” My arm swooped down, and I dropped them in my pocket. Nobody saw.
We walked up the street to First Avenue, and I bid them farewell. They went off to find a taxi, and I walked for miles, all the way home to Renwick Street, down by the Holland Tunnel.
I still have the sunglasses.
[Following is a solicited statement from my friend and former bandmate Peter.]
Charlie Messing and I visited Lou Reed in 1976. Lou had tossed a
pair of shades into the trash, and Charlie asked if he could have them. Lou smiled and said sure, or go ahead, or some similar affirmation. True story, swear to god, I was there.
- Peter Stampfel, Dec. 8, 2005
This serves to illustrate how two memories of the same evening can differ. I don’t know if my bragging about the glasses made Peter imagine he’d heard me ask Lou for them, or if for some reason I’ve forgotten that I spoke to Lou about them, and didn’t actually snatch them in secret after Peter left. There’s no telling now, but these are definitely Lou Reed’s sunglasses from thirty years ago. I’ve had them in a box all this time, and I’m sure. I’ve looked at them every year or so to see if they were still there. These are them.
PS – This entire story is what I posted on Ebay, with photos of the glasses, and a photo of Lou Reed at the time, wearing them. Up to the line “I still have the sunglasses”, it was a short story of mine I’d written years before.
This, as the “description of item”, was my certificate of authenticity – after all, who would make up such a story?
After a fierce bidding war between two fans, they went off to a guy in Toronto for $250.