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John Cameron Mitchell & Eyelids' Chris Slusarenko on Paying Tribute to Lou Reed with Benefit EP: 'It Was Magical'

John Cameron Mitchell and Eyelids
John Clark

John Cameron Mitchell and Eyelids 

When John Cameron Mitchell joined indie rock darlings Eyelids on stage for a special performance this last August, they decided to do something different. Sure, the group performed a track from the former's iconic smash-hit musical Hedwig & the Angry Inch, but they also gave the audience something much more unexpected: a cover of Lou Reed's "Turning Time Around".

"It just was so powerful and gorgeous," says Chris Slusarenko, the guitarist and vocalist for Eyelids. "I think pretty quickly, we were like, 'Let's just get this in the studio.'" 

That is how Mitchell & Eyelids' new project, Turning Time Around was born. The three-track EP (out today) takes some of the lesser-known songs of Reed's career, like "Waves of Fear," the title track, and The Velvet Underground's "I Found a Reason," and gives them new life, as the group's fuzzed-out rock sound pairs perfectly with Mitchell's warbling vocals. 

As Mitchell tells it, Lou Reed has long been one of his favorite artists of all time, especially as someone who often embraced androgyny and queerness deeply in his music. Mitchell says the star certainly helped inform his songwriting for Hedwig -- he even recalls that Reed used to live around the block from him and "loved" Hedwig, even though "he didn't always remember who I was".

But in choosing which songs to perform on the project, the band and Mitchell wanted to pick songs that spoke to them, rather than simply performing Reed's big hits. For example, when creating his version of "Turning Time Around" for a performance of Reed's music at Lincoln Center, Mitchell took W.B. Yeats' poem "The Second Coming," and interpolated it into the song's final moments, inspired by his friend and performance artist Justin Vivian Bond. 

"It's very of the moment," he said of adding in the poem. Mitchell made sure his point got across, by changing a word Yeats' closing lines so that it now read "what orange beast, its hour come round at last/ Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?" to reference President Trump. "When I first sang that, it was right after he was elected. It was quite the apocalyptic feeling."

For Slusarenko, Reed's music isn't necessarily timeless, but rather "suitable" for the time we're currently living in -- especially with his intertwining of different emotions into a portrait of real complexity. "I think we really did a lovely job of showing the different faces of Lou that are still full of love, even if it's an angry song," he says. "There's heart in it."

The EP isn't just a fun excuse for Mitchell and Eyelids to put a record together, either -- all of the proceeds for the album are going toward helping pay for Mitchell's mother's Alzheimer's care. The star says he doesn't feel that the project needs to raise awareness for the disease, since it is sadly so common (according to The Alzheimer's Association, over 5.8 million Americans are currently living with the degenerative disease).

"There's something just so subversive about something that strips your memory away," he says. "It doesn't not make you that person anymore, but it kind of whittles you down. Fortunately, both of my parents -- after very difficult years -- have found in their later periods a great deal of calm."

The project is also just one of many for both Mitchell and Eyelids. Among many other things, Mitchell is currently preparing for the next leg of his Origin of Love Tour, where he is singing some of his favorite Hedwig songs with audiences across America. Eyelids are currently preparing to release their next album in February.

But as Slusarenko says, working on Turning Time Around only serves to make both artists better, and perhaps to even help younger audiences get to know Reed's music. "Getting to interpret something like this with John... it wasn't that it was effortless, but it was magical," he says. "Those things make me want to continue to create art and music."

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