A lot’s been said over the last couple of days about Lou Reed, his body of work, the city he embodied. What hasn’t been written about all that much is the strange side streets Lou sometimes took during his career. Let’s visit a few of those.
Lou Reed as a Reclusive Rock Star in Get Crazy, 1983
The ’80s were a time of rock stars attempting to cross over to the silver screen. But while storming the stage in front of screaming fans doesn’t really prepare one for being a cowboy or an astronaut, Lou Reed nailed his finest silver screen moment as reclusive “Metaphysical Folk Singer” Auden in the 1983 absurdist cult classic Get Crazy. A comedy about a club preparing for a wild New Year’s Eve show, Reed plays the detached Auden perfectly, wandering along with the film’s weirdness while maintaining his respected quirky charm.
R.A.D. (Rock Against Drugs) PSA, 1987
For some kids, Nancy Reagan’s “Just Say No” wasn’t an effective method of communicating an anti-drug stance. Thus, R.A.D. (Rock Against Drugs) was formed to show teens that not only could an anti-drug message be cooler, but significantly more confusing. Here, a progressively less pixelated Lou Reed (who, if I recall correctly, has mentioned drug use in a handful of songs) tells us he’s stopped doing drugs, and that we shouldn’t start, in between a lot of bizarre hyper-kinetic over-stylized crime footage. Sold.
Lou Reed as “Man With Strange Glasses” in Blue in the Face, 1995
As Reed told us in his landmark 1978 live album Take No Prisoners, he can do Lou Reed better than anybody. This talent translates well to celluloid, even when his character is given a different name. In Wayne Wong and Paul Auster’s 1995 film Blue in the Face, Reed plays “Man With Strange Glasses,” essentially himself in cutaways improvised between scenes. Watching his performance now, it’s a reminder why he stayed so long in New York and what the city means to him. It’s also a great bit of his dry stoic humor.
Penn and Teller and Lou Reed and Sega-CD, 1995
While Reed’s had several compilations of his unreleased music eventually surface on store shelves over the years, his video game contributions haven’t been so lucky. The most notable omission from devout gamers’ collections is Penn and Teller’s Sega-CD game Smoke and Mirrors. A collection of tricks to play on friends using the video game medium, as well as a few mini games, it contains an option to change the game difficulty to “impossible,” which result in the player’s character immediately being killed by Lou Reed, who quips “Impossible doesn’t mean very difficult. Very difficult is winning the Nobel Prize; impossible is eating the Sun.”
Lou Reed Interviews his 100-Year-Old Cousin for Red Shirley, 2010
While Reed most recently turned heads and dropped jaws with his 2011 collaboration album with Metallica, Lulu, at the same time he was making his foray into the director’s chair with a far different documentary project. Red Shirley is a filmed conversation shared between Reed and his cousin Shirley Novick on the eve of her 100th birthday. Reed told the Wall Street Journal “This was an act of love, I realized if I didn’t do this, a connection to a lot of things would be lost forever.” Sadly, Reed never got to follow through on his idea for a follow-up film, a documentary on martial arts techniques.
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