Few musicians have been as associated with a city as Lou Reed is with New York. In his early days with the Velvet Underground, he was part of Andy Warhol’s community of artists. Across five decades, he made adventurous music that frequently told tales of the city, often focusing on the marginalized and underprivileged.
On Saturday, Lincoln Center will host a daylong tribute called The Bells that begins with a tai chi demo from Reed’s instructor, then goes on to include performances of Reed’s songs, readings of his lyrics and screenings of his films. The event was curated by Reed’s wife Laurie Anderson and his producer Hal Willner. They also worked with Reed shortly before his death to remaster the 16 solo albums he made from 1972-1986 for a box set, “The RCA & Arista Album Collection,” that will be released in October.
amNewYork spoke with Willner about Reed and the festival.
How did the idea for The Bells come together?
Lou had a pretty great history with Lincoln Center, going back to his first solo appearance at Alice Tully Hall, all the way to concerts he’s done and attended there. We did the first memorial there after he passed. The idea came up to do an entire day celebrating Lou’s work and the things he loved.
What do you think people don’t know about Lou Reed?
He has a reputation as being a little hard-edged. In reality, he was one of the most loving, generous people I’ve ever known. Having an evening of [performances of] just his love songs is going to be beautiful. I don’t think that’s a side of him that’s really been explored yet, and that’s an emphasis of ours. We hope people who are there bring Lou into their hearts.
Lou seemed like someone who was always moving forward. Why did he want to revisit his earlier work with the box set?
He never forgot those years. It’s not a matter of looking back; it was part of him. Each of his records was like a novel, like a child. Of course, you take care of them forever.
What do you hope people take away from the day?
For people who are already aware of his work, it will just make them happy to have a day celebrating one of New York’s great poets, composers and artists. And of course, we love to expose people who don’t know his work to all aspects of it. You’re going to get beautiful ballads, you’re going to get the noise and you’re going to get his loves and hobbies. It’s important to keep the work of a great artist alive. ... For those of us who were close to him and worked with him, his loss is monumental. It’s not something we’ve been able to move on from. He’s there, he’s part of us and as long as we can, we’ll be celebrating his work.