(JTA) — Lou Reed’s death on Sunday has made me think not just of his music but of his life, and specifically about when his life and mine briefly intersected, back when my brother Frank and I entertained him at our parents’ Philadelphia home, unbeknownst to mom and dad.
It was 1969 and Frank, then in high school, was covering rock music for a local underground paper, The Distant Drummer, a paper that I, too, used to write for. The Velvet Underground used to play fairly regularly — every six weeks or so, Frank says — at a club called the Second Fret. Frank was friendly with the house band and its manager and got to know Lou Reed and the rest of the Velvets.
So much so that twice Frank brought Reed over to our parents’ Center City brownstone after their gig to party. I don’t recall anything raucous on either occasion. In fact, the first time our parents slept through the whole thing.
It was the end of the summer and I had just returned to Philadelphia after a cross-country drive. Some friends I had traveled with were staying at our house before moving on. I’m not even sure that I went to the Velvets’ gig that night, but Frank was there. Afterward he turned up at home with Lou Reed and (I think) Doug Yule, another member of the band. Frank still can’t figure out why they came.
“I have no idea how that even happened,” he told me. “Why go over to this high school kid’s place were there was no dope and not much to do?“
The stories of Ariel Sharon and Happy Fernandez are a study in contrasts.
Sharon, as we all know, is being kept alive in an Israeli hospital seven years after suffering a massive stroke. He was prime minister at the time, had just dramatically pulled Israel out of Gaza and founded a new centrist political party, Kadima. The man who once was feared and reviled as a ruthless military leader had begun to look and act like, well, a statesman.
And then his body stopped.
Sharon, who is now 84, lies in an Israeli hospital through the wishes of his two sons, who are in charge of his care. A couple of weeks ago came a flurry of stories suggesting that doctors were able to detect “significant” brain activity when he heard familiar voices and was shown family photographs. In an interview last year, Gilad Sharon said that his father sometimes responds to requests and, even though he is fed intravenously, has put on weight.
But the chances of him regaining any sort of normal human function are, his doctors say, very, very slim.
Contrast that with the way Happy Fernandez’s family dealt with her massive stroke.
Fernandez was an extraordinarily brave and smart woman known to just about everyone in Philadelphia for a long life of service, first as an education and peace activist, then as a city councilwoman, and finally as president of Moore College of Art & Design. Though deeply wedded to her Christian faith, and married to an ordained minister, a celebration of her life was held in a large synagogue, reflecting her family’s interest in religions beyond their own faith.
The first national conference of the BDS movement, going on now at the University of Pennsylvania, has certainly riled up people on all sides of this controversial topic, as our Naomi Zeveloff reports here.
Let’s put aside for a moment whether this movement to boycott, divest from and sanction Israel is about undoing the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territory or eliminating Israel as a Jewish state. (I fear the latter). But one thing ought to be clear: If our adherence to the principle of free speech means that Penn was right to allow the conference to take place — and I think the university was right — then the conference organizers ought to treat all members of the media equally.
It’s not for PennBDS, or any other self-appointed arbiter, to decide who gets to cover a newsworthy event. Unfortunately, that’s what happened to the Jewish Exponent, the newspaper covering the Jewish community in the Philadelphia area.