Hundreds of New Yorkers gathered at Manhattan’s Lincoln Center Thursday afternoon to honor Lou Reed at a three-hour public memorial. The event, announced on Facebook two days earlier, featured no speeches, testimonials, or live performances: “Just Lou’s voice, guitar, music, and songs,” the post promised. “The recordings selected by his family and friends.”
A series of loudspeakers arranged around the Paul Milstein Pool and Terrace blasted a playlist of songs spanning Reed’s entire career, classics cherry-picked from his tenure with the Velvet Underground and subsequent 40-year solo career. The late icon’s life’s work swallowed the space next to the famed Metropolitan Opera House; attendees swayed with “Perfect Day,” hollered when “Heroin” kicked in, and smirked as “Sister Ray” crumpled over them.
“He was with us here,” said producer and longtime Reed collaborator Hal Willner, who helped select the program’s music. “That kind of artist, you can summon him up. Now we’ll go back to, ‘I can’t believe he’s not here.'”
The service brought together a range of fans: young and old, the devoted and the fairly uninitiated, personal friends to Reed and listeners looking to pay their respects.
“I love that he’s been given this incredible respect,” said Avery Ryan, a 52-year-old lawyer who has admired Reed’s music since the late ’70s. “To have a memorial at Lincoln Center is just amazing.”
“New York is in mourning,” Willner said of Reed’s passing, which came on October 27, when the singer-songwriter was 71 years old. “They’re gathering. You can come and just listen to his records.”
Applause followed every single song that played throughout the bright autumn afternoon. Women in fuzzy winter-wear boots danced to “Dirty Blvd.” as children ran past the thinning trees. Photographers swarmed around Reed’s widow, Laurie Anderson, as she hugged and greeted acquaintances, with “Candy Says” serving as the soundtrack.
Artist and filmmaker Julian Schnabel filtered through the crowd, which also included author Salman Rushdie, actress Natasha Lyonne, Richard Barone of the Bongos, and photographer Bob Gruen, who said, “It’s very humanizing to see that you’re not alone in your pain.”
He compared it to a similar feeling when John Lennon passed. “When Yoko told Sean that his father was gone, Sean said, ‘Now he’s everywhere,'” Gruen recalled. “And it’s a good way to do it, to have something like this that’s open to the public. There’s not a guest list, there’s not people talking about him like, ‘I was special.’ It’s everybody coming together and sharing their feelings of loss.”
Ono was not present at the memorial, but she did send a set of long-stem roses with a personal note. Anderson handed the flowers out to fans who approached her, just before the final song of the day, a selection from Reed’s infamously antagonistic Metal Machine Music LP, began.
“The joke was, ‘Put that on to clear it out,'” Willner said. “‘We know we have to stop at 4 p.m. That’ll get people out of there.’ But that also would’ve made [Reed] smile.”
After the music stopped and the plaza emptied, Willner stood inside Lincoln Center’s Avery Fisher Hall and reflected on the tribute.
“He would have loved today, because we had ‘Sister Ray’ and Metal Machine Music,” he said. “You look at today, and now the work is complete.”