Lou Reed is a rock & roll legend. That is an indisputable fact. And he doesn't bless Southern California with his downtown swagger very often. So when he takes part in a staged conversation, it is only fair that he gets to pick the subjects.
Unfortunately for many who paid 45 bucks to hear Reed's deadpan drawl on CSULB's Carpenter Performing Arts Center stage Friday, he was mostly interested in discussing his 1975 attempt at career suicide, Metal Machine Music, which is also the focus of the art show Reed was there to promote. The topics of the Velvet Underground, Andy Warhol, Laurie Anderson, even Metallica, were ignored in favor of Cartesian coordinates and pressure gradients.
Based on the few dozen walk-outs, it's safe to say that some people were disappointed to not hear about David Bowie; more surprisingly Reed and moderator Bob Ezrin seemed disappointed that many in the audience didn't share their enthusiasm for $400 headphones.
The evening started out promising. Reed, weeks from 70, ambled across the stage, wearing an ensemble of faded black with red socks, greeted by a standing ovation. Ezrin, a man with many multi-platinum producing credits (Pink Floyd's The Wall, Kiss' Destroyer, Alice Cooper's School's Out), promised a "public conversation between two dear friends." And that conversation seemed pretty relaxed.
Reed addressed the Occupy Wall Street movement ("Everyone is wondering where the fuck are the students these days?"), Newt Gingrich ("Three wives and conservative values. Maybe he knows something we don't.") and even the contributions of African-Americans to popular song ("If we didn't have black people, we'd be fucked. We'd still be doing jigs ... never mind R&B and the dunk-shot.") And then things took a turn.
After a fairly lengthy discussion about the greatness of a particular brand of earbuds, a member of the audience expressed his disinterest in the topic. "You guys are talking about headphones?" yelled the surly, hirsute audience member. To which Reed challenged him to stand up and identify himself and another member of the audience shouted at the heckler, "Stand up, asshole!" The uninhibited man did stand up and escorted himself out of the theater after a brief fist-pump. From there on out the evening was dedicated to Metal Machine Music and the art show.
A mere 10-minute hike from the theater, a darkened room in the University Art Museum already emitting the dense smell of body heat houses the art show, a $80,000 sound-immersion project. The 12-speaker project attempts to re-create the spatial sensation of standing onstage amid Reed's harrowing feedback, which was re-recorded in 2009 in New York. If you can withstand the aural assault ("loud" was probably the most popular word of the evening), the project is impressive. Anytime there is more than one adult lying on the floor, you know you are in for an interesting time.
At the event, Reed and Ezrin eventually were joined by members of Reed's band (Ulrich Krieger, Sarth Calhoun) and the tech-heads who helped make it possible. The rest of the evening was dedicated to the discussion of sines and cosines and at that point the walk-outs accelerated.
An agonizing question-and-answer session, which sometimes had two or three people asking a question at the same time, only helped to insure that little else would be discussed onstage.
Reed even admitted that the biggest mistake he made about Metal Machine Music was "putting it out." So it was curious to see him baffled by some of the audience's disinterest in the subject.
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Ezrin closed the evening by essentially apologizing for their passionate gear-talk. "I want to thank everyone for indulging us," he said. "This is how our brains work. It's not a show."
And with that the house lights got a little brighter, the remaining audience members applauded and "Walk on the Wild Side" started playing over the house speakers.
Come back soon, Lou!