Lou Reed and Laurie Anderson’s Three Rules for Living Well: A Short and Succinct Life Philosophy

Reg­u­lar read­ers of Open Cul­ture know us to gush over our favorite celebri­ty cou­ples now and then: John and Yoko, Jean-Paul and Simone, Fri­da and Diego…. Not your usu­al tabloid fare, but the juicy details of these amorous part­ners’ lives also hap­pen to inter­sect with some of our favorite art, music and lit­er­a­ture. One cul­tur­al pow­er cou­ple we haven’t cov­ered much, sur­pris­ing­ly, well deserves the “pow­er” adjec­tive: Lou Reed and Lau­rie Ander­son, two per­son­al­i­ties whose influ­ence on the art and music of the last sev­er­al decades can hard­ly be over­stat­ed.

Has Reed’s rep­u­ta­tion at times been inflat­ed, and Anderson’s under­played? Maybe. She doesn’t get near­ly enough cred­it for the wit­ty, pro­found, mov­ing work she’s done, year after year (with one lengthy hia­tus) since the 70s. Reed’s career since the 70s con­sist­ed of more miss­es than hits. But put them togeth­er (in 1992) and you get a har­mo­nious meet­ing of Reed’s raw, gut-lev­el asser­tions and Anderson’s curi­ous, play­ful con­cepts.

Wit­ness their per­son­al strength togeth­er in the Char­lie Rose excerpt at the top of the post. Reed, who was often a dif­fi­cult inter­view sub­ject, to put it mild­ly, and who gained a rep­u­ta­tion as a bru­tal­ly unpleas­ant, abu­sive rock and roll diva (immor­tal­ized lov­ing­ly in Bowie’s “Queen Bitch”), comes off in this sit-down with Ander­son as almost warm and fuzzy. Did she make him want to be a bet­ter per­son? I don’t know. But Anderson’s short obit­u­ary after his 2013 death remem­bered Reed as a “prince and fight­er,” her longer obit as a “gen­er­ous” soul who enjoyed but­ter­fly hunt­ing, med­i­ta­tion, and kayak­ing. No rea­son he wasn’t all those things too.

When it came to music, Reed could pull his part­ner into the orbit of his sweet R&B songcraft, as in their duet of “Hang on to Your Emo­tions,” fur­ther up, and she could pull him out of it—like John Cale and Nico had done in the Vel­vet Underground—and into the avant-garde drone of her exper­i­men­tal scene (as above in the pair’s col­lab­o­ra­tion with com­pos­er and sax­o­phon­ist John Zorn). Just this past Spring, in one of the most touch­ing musi­cal trib­utes I’ve ever seen, Ander­son recre­at­ed Reed’s abra­sive screw-you to his record label, Met­al Machine Music, as a con­cep­tu­al art piece called Drones, lean­ing sev­er­al of his gui­tars against sev­er­al ful­ly-cranked vin­tage amps, let­ting the feed­back ring out for five days straight.

None of us can be Lou Reed and Lau­rie Ander­son; every cou­ple is hap­py, or unhap­py, in their own way. But what, in the grand tra­di­tion of min­ing celebri­ty cou­ple’s lives for advice, can we learn from them? I guess the over­all message—as Ander­son her­self sug­gest­ed in her Rock & Roll Hall of Fame accep­tance speech for Reed (above, in shaky audi­ence video)—is this: keep it sim­ple. Kansas State Eng­lish Pro­fes­sor Philip Nel points out Anderson’s “wise… thought­ful” words on the sub­ject of liv­ing well, deliv­ered in her speech at the 8:55 mark:

I’m remind­ed also of the three rules we came up with, rules to live by. And I’m just going to tell you what they are because they come in real­ly handy. Because things hap­pen so fast, it’s always good to have a few, like, watch­words to fall back on.

And the first one is: One. Don’t be afraid of any­one. Now, can you imag­ine liv­ing your life afraid of no one? Two. Get a real­ly good bull­shit detec­tor. And three. Three is be real­ly, real­ly ten­der. And with those three things, you don’t need any­thing else.

Can you imag­ine Lou Reed as “real­ly, real­ly ten­der”? He cer­tain­ly was in song, if not always in per­son. In any case, these three rules seem to me to encap­su­late a per­son­al phi­los­o­phy built solid­ly on fear­less integri­ty and com­pas­sion. Dif­fi­cult to live by, but well worth the effort. And because I’m now feel­ing super warm and fuzzy about Lou and Lau­rie, I’ll leave you with the short WNYC inter­view clip below, in which she reveals her favorite Lou Reed song, which he hap­pened to write about her.

via Nine Kinds of Pie

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Lau­rie Anderson’s Top 10 Books to Take to a Desert Island      

An Ani­mat­ed Lou Reed Explains The Vel­vet Underground’s Artis­tic Goals, and Why The Bea­t­les Were “Garbage”

Lou Reed, John Cale & Nico Reunite, Play Acoustic Vel­vet Under­ground Songs on French TV, 1972

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

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