Lou Reed you old curmudgeon. So it was, a week ago, that I found myself in a great theatre in Mayfair, the Mayfair Curzon to be exact. The event was a screening of the new Julian Schnabel film Berlin which is essentially a documentary of Lou Reed performing his Berlin album in its entirety in St. Anns warehouse, New York City, in 2006. This album, Berlin, has taken on mythical proportions since its release over 30 years ago. A complete commercial failure, it was a tough act to follow Reeds monumental work Transformer and sadly Berlin crumbled under the pressure.
Such was the negative reception of this concept album that it had never been performed, held in perpetual limbo, forgotten perhaps, discarded to be forever relegated to the sales bins of the unloved. The idea behind the album was the story of a variety of characters that all interact over the course of the album. Appearing, leaving, re-emerging later on. This was not an album with a few choice cuts, the idea was to listen to it in its entirety, at least if one desired to fully grasp the concept.
The film Berlin was well made, with hand held footage mingling with static conventional shots. An elaborately decorated stage, projections created by Schnabels daughter were shown over top of the musicians while they played. Basically the visuals were supposed to represent the words, with both important for the overall show.
Now the work was good, well put together, but it was slightly too long, with some songs seeming to drag on and on, musicians getting their glories on stage perhaps? But after containing these notes and nouns for over 30 years, a few extra minutes to savour them wouldnt hurt the audience now would it?
At the close of the film, lights came up and some charmless British rock journalist took to the stage to act as questioner of the great one. Calling upon his interrogatee, Lou Reed arose, from the audience where he had apparently been sitting the entire show. Watching him rise, I expected him to keep getting up, but alas, Lou Reed is small, such is the way with icons, theyre much smaller, and lifelike in person. And so to the stage he took, not in some exaggerated Warhol inspired getup, but a simple white top, jeans and trainers, Nikes to be exact. We want the underground, but were getting the suburbs. Slightly stooped and rambling, I expect that the effects of alcohol consumption could be blamed.
Over the course of some 45 minutes Lou Reed discussed Berlin I had never been to the city when I wrote it, the city was just a metaphor for the album, divided…; discussed mp3s …those who dont care about sonic quality can have their mp3s…. studies have shown that people only really download 1 track anyways…; and all the details worth noting (note: he would only discuss Berlin, anything unrelated was not allowed) that are Lou Reed. The moderator then read off questions that audience members had written down on cue cards (so to remove the possibility of spontaneous disaster). Fan questions for the most part, they were what you wanted to ask but didnt want to ask for fear of seeming slightly uncouth. The highlight of the question period came when Lou Reed had an audience member ejected. The constant heckling from a seat in the back became too much and Lou Reed proclaimed Jesus Fucking Christ, cant you just shut up? Can someone throw him out of here?. Which did proceed to occur. The offender was a middle-aged man with a Mohawk; he wanted attention more than anything.
At precisely 45 minutes, the question period was finished, and everyone clapped. Little time for an encore, Lou quickly exited the stage, not through the audience this time, his cover was blown. Off to practice no doubt, as he had a few nights of performing Berlin to Londonites still to go. An enjoyable experience all in all, its always nice to see the icons of the world in the flesh to help remind us that while their work may be monumental, the creator themselves is only human, for big or for small…