(Smith’s article appeared in the New Yorker, 11/11.)
On Sunday morning, I rose early. I had decided the night before to go to the ocean, so I slipped a book and a bottle of water into a sack and caught a ride to Rockaway Beach. It felt like a significant date, but I failed to conjure anything specific. The beach was empty, and, with the anniversary of Hurricane Sandy looming, the quiet sea seemed to embody the contradictory truth of nature. I stood there for a while, tracing the path of a low-flying plane, when I received a text message from my daughter, Jesse. Lou Reed was dead. I flinched and took a deep breath. I had seen him with his wife, Laurie, in the city recently, and I’d sensed that he was ill. A weariness shadowed her customary brightness. When Lou said goodbye, his dark eyes seemed to contain an infinite and benevolent sadness.
I met Lou at Max’s Kansas City in 1970. The Velvet Underground played two sets a night for several weeks that summer. The critic and scholar Donald Lyons was shocked that I had never seen them, and he escorted me upstairs for the second set of their first night. I loved to dance, and you could dance for hours to the music of the Velvet Underground. A dissonant surf doo-wop drone allowing you to move very fast or very slow. It was my late and revelatory introduction to “Sister Ray.”