When the past makes you laugh and you can savor the magic that let you survive your own war. You find that that fire is passion and there's a door up ahead not a wall. As you pass through fire as you pass through fire tryin' to remember it's name. When you pass through fire lickin' at your lips you cannot remain the same. And if the building's burning move towards that door but don't put the flames out. There's a bit of magic in everything, and then some loss to even things out.” Lou Reed
LA is now a dream...
A year ago I escaped New York just after Hurricane Sandy wrecked Halloween Hell upon Gotham City. I had had enough. Burnt out from the city, I needed a change: a shake up, a wake up, a shift of latitude, a shift of attitude. With the desire to meet new people, personally and professionally, I traveled to the AFM film conference in LA. I went for a week. I stayed for nine months.
I was not looking forward to another cold, harsh winter in NYC. LA is sunny, the people are beautiful, and Hollywood called. After a heart to heart call with my wife, we decided that l would stay on, and we started to make plans for my wife to join me.
The first night after the conference, I wandered the streets of Venice. A car blasted “Soul Kitchen” by The Doors. It felt like a sign. I became a yogified, raw foodie, ex-patriot to the city of my birth. I spent the time, writing, meeting groovy folks, smoozing with industry people, and exploring creative possibilities.
But I did miss my wife deeply. So in August I did what I swore I would not going to do, unless hell froze over. I went back to NYC for a visit.
I find myself walking the streets of the Lower East Side, still in my LA mode of chill-walking, while looking for the best juice bar in the area. I knew one on Suffolk St, but forgot where the street was. I stop a man. “Hey Bro, do you know where that really cool juice bar is? I know it is on Suffolk St, but I forgot...” He stops me in my tracks with an open hand. He deftly points behind him. “Suffolk? Norfolk, then Suffolk!” Then like a speedy cabbie, he accelerates his walking, making up for the 3 seconds he had stopped to give directions. 3 seconds! Now I know exactly where to go.
Something clicks for me in that moment. My swagger kicks in. I breathe in the air and my mind sharpens. I go to the park and workout with the tattoo men and it feels familiar, so good to sweat. I see the skyscrapers and see thousands of people to connect with. The garbage in the streets looks creatively posed. The vibrancy is tactile. Anything is possible here. Heaven and Hell are like a wild sexy couple, who make out on every street corner in New York City.
NYC has been, is, and always will be my home. No matter where I go, I am a New Yorker. It is in my DNA. In some deep egoless void, I am a cosmic child of the Universe, but the one called Mark Sklawer is a New Yorker. I needed my Cali affair. I was mainlining the same vein for so long, that the pain of the rut of my steps of complacency was killing me. I will go back to the West Coast when the time is right.
New York is like an old lover who grabs me by the ass, whispers and dares me to dance with her again. And so I am, recreating anew.
“Caught between the twisted stars the plotted lines the faulty map that brought Columbus to New York. Betwxt between the East and West he calls on her wearing a leather vest. The earth squeals and shudders to a halt. A diamond crucifix in his ear is used to help ward off the fear that he has left his soul in someone's rented car. Inside his pants he hides a mop to clean the mess that he has dropped into the life of lithesome Juliet Bell.” Lou Reed
This blog is about the man who gave me my NYC birth certificate. It is about the man who created the deadly secret potion on how to breathe in the dirty air of NYC and alchemically turn lead into gold. The man who brought together the unholy holy mixture of avant-garde, piss, blood, cum, junk, hope, death, love, noise, feedback, beatific truth, beauty, scars, drums, cries, shiny leather, SisterRay, Sunday Morning, White Light/White Heat, Ecstasy, Metal Machine Music, Coney Island, Berlin, New York, Magic & Loss. He changed everything in pop.
Lou Reed is now an Ancestor. The world has perhaps lost the single most influential Rock and Roll musician of the 20th and 21st Century. He was born in Brooklyn and lived in NYC. Actually he was NYC! He was a wizard who opened doors of creativity that can never be closed again. No pop artist before him wrote and sang of the subjects Lou did, and he did so with such unflinching openness, with the Velvet Underground and his solo works.
I did not get his contribution fully, until I felt the impact of his death. When I went to art school, no one thought it was strange that we studied classical painters by day and went to punk shows at night. And that was because of what Lou and the Velvets brought upon the world. Brian Eno is quoted as saying “The first Velvet Underground record sold 30,000 copies in the first five years, but everyone who bought one started a band.” This is most likely not true. What is true that the Meme of what was possible as a pop artist changed the moment the first person played the first record of the Velvets, with that delightfully obscene banana on the cover. “I’m waiting for my man Twenty-six dollars in my hand. Up to Lexington, 125. Feeling sick and dirty, more dead than alive. I'm waiting for my man.” Pandora’s Box was smashed open with that line.
Lou inspired generations of musician. Where would Punk, Grunge, Metal, Gothic, Industrial, Alternative Rock, the icons of those and other genres, billions of records sold and played without Lou Reed’s gifts? I see in myself the quest to merge the high and the low brow, with the promise of spiritual release, is indeed the path that Lou Reed trail blazed. His music and his influence guided me directly and indirectly in the voices of hundreds of bands I have seen and listened to. In my script for Electric Visions, the antagonist is named Lou. Modeled after Lou Reed in style, my character is the epitome of badass New York don’t fuck with me.
Yesterday I listened to White Light / White Heat from the Velvet Underground and his 1989 release, New York. I love how compassionate he sings towards the people in New York, probably because he lived through the same stories during his 20’s in the earlier release. Lou walked the talk in emotional artistry and compassion. And as he matured, so did his art. Yes, we all want to stay in the wildness of White Light/White Heat, but Lou showed that if you are to really have guts and be an honest artist, you must expand your worldview and heart. He wrote about how all his albums taken together could be imagined as an aural version of The Great American Novel. Lou gave voice to those who have been grinded up in the system. He lived the life, and then wrote about it. His art matured as he aged. Not only was he an innovator, he was an artist with a huge body of work that will be digested, rediscovered, reconfigured, and reworked for generation to come.
Today is Halloween. I walk out into the midnight air. I will try to catch sight of the dark angel who will haunt these streets, this Dirty Boulevard, whispering inspiration, and tales of the underground, to all who have the guts and heart to listen. Lou Reed will stand as the bellwether of creative honesty for as long as some form of street poetry, and edgy music is pulsing, and alive.