Lou Reed died on Sunday. This was strange to me because my relationship with him had only begun on Saturday night. I am a little embarrassed that I was not fully informed about the music of this artist. Of course, I knew some of his songs and was aware of the Velvet Underground and their being part of the Andy Warhol scene, but I think I was just a little too young and a lot too unhip to have accessed more of his music in its time. When I was just a little older and a touch hipper, I did become a fan of Laurie Anderson’s work and got it when she and Lou Reed later became an item.
Being attached to the elements of time, sound and place that Lou Reed inhabited, I would have responded with some curiosity and sadness upon hearing of his passing. But, having been in his presence just the night before, made the news resonate through my being.
What had happened was that on Saturday night, Pete and I found ourselves still adjusting to being parents without boarders. This is what my daughter called us when she moved out recently to start college, leaving us with no kids living in the house. Simultaneous with that event, by means of some cable wire, our computer had become magically capable of projecting things onto our television set–thus widely expanding the viewing opportunities at our disposal. So, giddy with this new means of entertainment against the backdrop of a quiet house, Pete turned me onto a show called Spectacle, where Elvis Costello interviews an array of musical guests. Though this was big news to me, the episodes were recorded between 2008 and 2010. The show is a combination of storytelling and casual performance which I love.
Comfortably curled up for a night of relaxation, we started with Elvis Costello’s interview with Elton John. Right away my rock and roll pulse began to quicken. Next, we chose the one with Lou Reed. With Costello’s thoughtful and serious questions and Reed’s droll but meaningful answers, the segment just began to unfold like a walk through a park. Reed was iconic but also gracious and familiar-seeming. He discussed lyrics, the influence of the Beat poets, songs as stories and the effectiveness of minimal chords. Then, the artist Julian Schnabel joined them on stage. A very close friend of Reed, he told a touching story about loss that brought out the richness of their relationship. He recited Reed’s Rock Minuet as if he were Hamlet. Costello and Reed performed a perfect duet of A Perfect Day and they ended the segment with Set the Twilight Reeling. The combination of the scorching guitars and contrasting vocals was beautiful. I turned to Pete and said that I felt that I had just had a spiritual experience.
So, when on Sunday, as I was home working on some frustrating and soul-constraining activities and then saw the news that Lou Reed had died, I was strangely affected. How could that be? I just saw him the night before. He seemed ok–his heart was full and he treated us to some of Sweet Jane. I texted Pete–who was at a conference–the news. He wrote back agreeing that was very weird. Throughout the rest of the day, in between tending to my mundane tasks, I gobbled up the various contents of the musician’s cholesterol-rich oeuvre by reading articles and listening to his music. When Pete returned, he played me some more. I felt kind of empty. I regretted the loss to the world of a sensitive artist.
My own clinical work can frequently feel quite vapid to me–I am reactive to when there is too much science, too much medicine, too much judgment, and too little soul. The lyrics of my day are littered with mean or inflamed words like hypertension, arthritis, hypertriglyceridemia, gout, GERD, diabetes, obesity, and diabesity. Diabesity–actually sounds like it could be the name of a Lou Reed song. While Lou Reed’s lyrics can be ugly, angry, and crass sometimes too, they are also tender and romantic.
I am always longing for the lyrical and the poetic–and am grateful for artists and their art. For the lives and stories that I am privy to, I imagine something I call Diapoetry–where the impersonal becomes personal, where healing becomes love. This is any artistic or humanistic expression of matters related to health and the conditions that support or hinder it. It has applications wider than its name. There are beautiful renditions of illness and loss; there are healing practitioners whose science is art, there is life-giving food prepared with love and there are acts of service. It can be pretty or not–but it touches emotions and represents our fuller selves. Diapoetry can be represented in many ways. My observation is just that the collective psyche is weary of the bombastic and literal when it comes to our bodies.
So, it was additionally strange when on the following night, Pete said, “El, read this“. He handed me a New York Times article about Lou Reed having diabetes. Apparently, as Reed struggled with what to eat in response to it, the restaurateurs and chefs he knew throughout his little village of New York City began to create special menus for him and helped him to become interested in food for health. I was shocked. Here I am following the life and times of this legendary artist who was known for his often alienating and transgressive behaviors–and he ends up with the same humbling condition that brings many to their knees, praying for culinary and nutritional redemption. Suddenly, Lou Reed who traveled in realms quite foreign to me landed in a place I know a little something about.
The article concluded with a quote from Reika Alexander, the owner of one of the restaurants that nourished him. She said, recalling a strong final hug, “Even a couple of weeks ago he told me that he loved eating our food because it made him feel really healthy. He was really sweet. I really miss him. I was hoping I could see him again.”
That story, that food, that hug and Lou Reed himself–I think that is Diapoetry. It may be a fitting ending for this man who obviously fed the collective psyche. Maybe this beautiful tribute by his friend, Patti Smith, best reflects this sentiment.
Anyway, send word, love and any expressions of Diapoetry you may wish to share.
In health, Elyn
Happy Birthday to my dear husband Peter, who brings a lot of music to my life. Really– jazz, classical, post-rock, electronic, some really weird stuff–and always rock and roll. This video is for you, my love.
My Plate Diapoetry
As the twilight sunburst gleams
as the chromium moon it sets
As I lose all my regrets
and set the twilight reeling
I accept the new found man
and set the twilight reeling.
by Lou (Reed)