The distorted opening chords of Lou Reed’s The Blue Mask blasted at concert volumes in a space better known for classical performances, prompting children on class trips and workers plugged into laptops to turn their heads to hear the music, which began without warning on Thursday afternoon in New York's Lincoln Center.
It was a public memorial about the man, his music and the community he inspired. Due to the open nature of the event, it was also about people who weren’t sure why Reed's dark lyrics were echoing through a manicured plaza, just outside New York City's performing arts library:
The crowd was littered with people swaddled in down jackets to brace from the cold and far more people wore leather jackets than appropriate for the chilly temperature. Toes tapped, heads bopped and the occasional dancer embraced the pristine sounds, delivered at surprisingly high quality over the speaker towers dotting Lincoln Center’s terrace and reflecting pool.
As the music played into the afternoon, more than 100 people milled about the plaza, including Reed’s widow, Laurie Anderson, who was with Reed when he died on 27 October. Anderson chatted with fans and acquaintances while surrounded by an army of photographers.
Each song was followed by a small round of applause. Some people paced alone in circles around the scene and others wiped away the tears hidden behind sunglasses. Kids in brightly colored winter-warm tights danced to songs about dead prostitutes and drug addicts.
This memorial was quietly announced on Reed’s website earlier this week, though his sound engineers had scouted out the space earlier to plot the best speaker system for the outdoor space.
“A gathering open to the public – no speeches, no live performances, just Lou's voice, guitar music & songs – playing the recordings selected by his family and friends,” the website explained.
“New York without Lou – it’s unimaginable,” said Brian Kaiser, 47, who sat in the fold-up chairs close to one speaker stand as Street Hassle played in the background. He said the song has one of the most beautiful endings to a song in history and felt people had taken Reed’s body of work for granted and were remembering again its high quality with his death.
“He was a pioneer – even with what we are doing here,” said Kaiser.