Talk to Me, Lou

Lou Reed hangs a photo show, and other tales of Fashion Week

"Lynn? Who's Lynn?" I hear Lou Reed say to a gallery employee across the floor at 401 Projects. She's begging Reed to find a moment to speak with me—"It would be really good to have a write-up of this exhibition," she implores—but, alas, no dice. According to Steven Kasher, who is designing the exhibit along with Reed, an interruption to answer a few press questions is impossible because "Lou wants to continue with the process because it's a process, and he's really concentrating."

Here's the setup: Lou is helping to hang "Vision of Rock," an exhibit of photographs taken by rock musicians who also fancy themselves photographers—some seriously, some just as a lark—which has been curated by Mark Seliger. I have been invited to talk to the legendary Lou, who is wiry and any-age in jeans and tie-dyed tee, and I have rushed over, excited, between fashion shows.

I know Lou likes me on sight because when I first arrive, we chat inanely about my lipstick for a few minutes. Little do I know that this is the longest conversation we will have. He blows me a kiss from across the room, and that's totally it until he finally gives in to collective pleading and toddles over. Here are his remarks in full:

Lou reed hangs Bryan Adams’s photo of Pink.
Bryan Adams
Lou reed hangs Bryan Adams’s photo of Pink.

"I love the photos of Mark Seliger, in the first place. I worked with him before; I wrote the forward to his book. I love all the musicians and their photography. I mean, I like what they sing and what they photograph—these are all overachievers. Don't miss Lou Reed's Berlin, coming to the Tribeca Film Festival! Bye-bye."

And then he's back staring at the wall, and I'm off to the Baby Phat show, where the larger-than-life ex-wife of mogul Russell Simmons continues to try her hand not at music but designing.

But I'm not mad at Lou—not really. How can you be mad at a guy like Lou? In fact, I'm so not mad that I decide to stop by at the exhibit's opening-night party, where a number of rock-star photographers will be in attendance. I am also able to view the works as Lou means them to be seen: "I thought everything would be grouped together by artist, and then Lou came in and made a tornado," Seliger says admiringly of Reed's eclectic decisions. "He was hanging till 5 p.m. this evening. Lou did it!"

A lot of the work is mesmerizing: Melissa Auf der Maur's raucous rock scene captured in The Sweden Incident; Lenny Kravitz's portraits of impoverished residents of Brazil; Patti Smith's heartbreakingly poignant photo of Robert Mapplethorpe's velvet slippers, embroidered "RM."

Patti isn't here tonight (maybe it's just as well—I love her so much I might be tongue-tied anyway), but here is Michael Stipe, who's got a bunch of pics in the show and who says of his fellow artists: "Well, their music is certainly varied, and so is what's represented here." Bryan Adams, of "(Everything I Do) I Do It for You" fame—who is, in fact, a serious professional photographer—is responsible for some of the show's most arresting images: a bare-breasted Pink in a denim mini reaching for the sun; a pensive Brian Wilson; Tony Blair strumming a guitar; and a very congenial Queen Elizabeth. I can't help but notice what Her Majesty is wearing—it's Fashion Week, after all—and the queen certainly has a look in her strict suit, pearls and pin, and her patent bag matching her shoes. But the setting is hardly formal; the room she's in is charmingly run-down, and there's a line of Wellington boots by the door.

Adams is off in a corner, as voluble as Reed was taciturn. When I ask him about Queenie, he tells me: "It was shot in Buckingham Palace for the Jubilee. It's the garden entrance—it's sort of where the corgis go out. I think Her Majesty is a bit of a gardener. She was very nice—I had five minutes to shoot it." Which is more time than I had with Lou.

And Back in Fashion Land . . .

Adams is a doll, and I would be happy to chat with him for hours, but unfortunately I must rush up to the Warhol Factory X Levis X Damien Hirst show at the Gagosian gallery, where we sit surrounded not by rock-star photos, but by Hirst's humongous spin-art creations. Which is not to say there's no rocker connection: The renowned Malcolm McLaren, who was once married to Vivienne Westwood and more or less invented punk, is sitting directly across the runway from me, and the show—models wearing Levis and tees along with a quartet of spin-art-decorated clothes allegedly created by Hirst himself—begins with the strains of an ancient recording of the Velvet Underground (hi, Lou!) live at Max's Kansas City.

The use of rock music to make fashion cool—the opposite is less frequently the case—is hardly new. Last Tuesday alone, Betsey Johnson, who was in fact once briefly married to Lou's bandmate John Cale, presented her collection as a personal retrospective of dance styles, beginning in 1958 when Betsey was junior-prom princess (her show invitation had the photo to prove it); at Heatherette, the rapper Lil Mama kicked off the show with a deafening rendition of her big hit: "My lip gloss be poppin' . . . and all the boys keep stoppin'."

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