Patti Smith remembers the first time she saw Lou Reed in person. It was 1970 and Reed and the Velvet Underground were performing at the Manhattan club Max’s Kansas City.
“I was so taken with their music,” she said Monday as she spoke of her friend, inspiration and fellow poet-musician, who died Sunday at 71. “I made it my business to study him. His process completely spoke to me, the process of merging poetry with these surf rhythms, this pulsing loop. You could get into a trance listening to 12 minutes of `Sister Ray.'”
Interviewed by phone, Smith said that Reed brought “the sensibility of art and literature” to rock music, a sensibility she has long shared. When she and Reed would see each other, they often talked about poetry, about Hart Crane or Walt Whitman or Federico Garcia Lorca.
“He could speak articulately about any poet,” she said.
Smith said she was pleased by the global impact of Reed’s passing and by the stories of how his songs affected people’s lives. She cited “Pale Blue Eyes” as a personal favorite. She said that the fragile, weary ballad reminded her of her late, blue-eyed husband, guitarist Fred “Sonic” Smith.
“I never fail to think of him and his gaze when I’m singing that or hear that song,” she said. “Lou had a gift of taking very simple lines, `Linger on, your pale blue eyes,’ and make it so they magnify on their own. That song has always haunted me.”
Smith also praised Reed’s romantic “Perfect Day.” She sings it often in concert and finds herself moved when audiences join in on the chorus.
“So many of us have benefited from the work he has done,” she said. “We all owe him a debt. Most of us that owe a debt are not very happy to own up to it. Sometimes you like to imagine that you did everything on your own. But I think with Lou that everyone will stand in line to say thank you, in their own way.”