Cardinal Gianfranco Ravasi, the Vatican’s 71-year-old culture minister, paid his own tribute on Monday to the late rocker Lou Reed, tweeting one of his best-known songs before clarifying he was not condoning any reference to drugs some have seen in the song.
Ravasi, an Italian who is the same age as Reed was when he died on Sunday, tweeted the third verse from Reed’s song “Perfect Day.”
“Oh, it’s such a perfect day / I’m glad I spent it with you / Oh, such a perfect day / You just keep me hanging on.”
There have been many interpretations of the song’s meaning, ranging from drugs to a simple love story.
Just to make sure no-one thought Ravasi was condoning the use of drugs, he later tweeted a Bible passage that warns against “illusions” and noted that Reed quoted from the passage when he spoke in the song about reaping what one sows.
Ravasi is a Bible expert who represents the Roman Catholic Church to the worlds of art, culture, science and even to atheists and says he is a firm believer in the power of contemporary culture.
Reed, whose most famous hit, “Walk on the Wild Side” included themes such as transvestites and prostitution, died on Sunday in Long Island, New York from complications from a liver transplant.
I first heard those eerie xylophone notes that open the Velvet Underground’s “Sunday Morning” when I was 14, sitting on the rug of my friend Mollie’s bedroom. A moment later, I heard Lou Reed’s voice for the first time, and everything changed.
That day, we were two Upper West Side Jewish girls who showed up to Hebrew school each week; only two years beforehand we’d been playing with paper dolls on the same rug. But at that moment we were self-styled rebels. The album gave us the chills and fit in perfectly with our other nascent explorations: the still-seedy shops on St. Marks Place, smoking cigarettes and eventually pot, and also, more crucially, the cruelty of adolescent and adult life — a darkness that I heard emitting from every note of that album. In its melancholy and relentless tracks, we heard the sonic reflection of a disordered world indifferent to our pain.
That deep identification explains why Reed’s death, at 71, feels so personal to so many. For me, embracing the Velvets was the beginning of giving up on the idea of fitting in (it’s a lifelong process, still ongoing). So I grabbed on to his music that day and never let go, because he demonstrated that being on the margins of acceptability was not only okay, but actually cool. I bought a baby tee emblazoned with his face and wore it regularly to school, so I could sneer at the kids who sneered at me — or more accurately, when I felt the urge to cower, I could let Lou’s mug do the sneering for me.
Lou Reed is standing in front of a room full of Jews on Varick Street on a night that is unquestionably different from all other nights. “Exodus, movement of Jah people. Send us another brother Moses from across the Red Sea,” Reed intones with the cryptic, stentorian sermonizing of a downtown, denim-clad rocker-turned-street rabbi. The text, culled from Bob Marley’s “Exodus,” is a politically charged retelling of the biblical tale — Reed’s assigned passage for the star-studded March 19 Downtown Seder at City Winery — and his interpretation is anything but orthodox. “Move, move, move, move, move, move!” he rasps with a risible if unleavened air from the de facto bimah. “Park… or move.”
Now 71, the former Velvet Underground frontman and downtown prophet held the bibulous congregation, perhaps slightly hipper than the typical minyan, in rapt if compromised attention to receive the hard-earned wisdom of the “wise child” between their second and third glasses of wine. Or fourth or fifth, but at this Seder, who’s counting?
“Feel free to drink in any order,” City Winery impresario Michael Dorf stipulated before the first glass was tipped. “You are leaning as free men and women, leaning neither to the left nor to the right.”
At a Seder that was more deconstructionist than Reconstructionist, the other three children all betrayed a youthful innocence that mined the Haggadah for its symbolic depth. Performance artist Laurie Anderson, Reed’s wife, as the simple child, recited “The Dream Before,” a contemplation of the meaning of history. Rockapella founder Sean Altman, the rebellious child, performed a whimsically irreverent papal tribute penned by fictional Pope Antisemiticus titled “Blame the Jews,” as well as “My Phantom Foreskin,” a circumcision ballad. Cast against type as child who does not know how to ask, Philip Glass opted out of the interrogative mode in typical Zen fashion by tickling the ivories with his “Etude No. 10.” There are few reasons most Jews would consume the bread of affliction earlier than absolutely necessary; this was one of them.
Each Thursday, The Arty Semite features excerpts and reviews of the best contemporary Jewish poetry. This week, Jake Marmer introduces four poems by Alicia Jo Rabins.
Songwriters who are also known as poets often only become so once they receive a degree of popular acclaim for their music. Cases in point include Bob Dylan and Ani Di Franco, David Byrne and Lou Reed. With the recent album, “Half You Half Me” by her Girls in Trouble project, violinist and indie singer-songwriter Alicia Jo Rabins has made a powerful pitch for inclusion in that elite realm. Each song on the album is a lyrical exploration about another female character in the Tanakh — the “girls” of the project’s name.
But her writing is not confined to her lyrics, and today on the Arty Semite we’re featuring four poems that were written as such, not for songs. The first three works are part of her “Ancient Studies” cycle, and walk the line between mythic and contemporary, culminating perhaps most intensely in the third piece where a customer service phone call turns into a deeply personal hallucination. The final work featured here returns the poetic context inherent to much kabbalistic thought back into poetry, lightly swinging images and abstractions into a meditation on things most timeless.
How Yiddish poet Itzik Manger brought midrash to the Megillah.
Bob Dylan, Brandeis University, 1963: Coming soon to a record store near you.
In other Dylanalia, Bob’s upcoming Asian tour now includes stops in both China and Vietnam.
David Kaufmann on new poetry by Adrienne Rich.
The Hebrew University is putting Albert Einstein’s archives on the Internet.
For those accustomed to seeing Lou Reed as the snarling badass of the New York music scene, his first directorial effort, “Red Shirley,” will come as something of a shock. Far from touching on the trademark obsessions of his Velvet Underground days — sadomasochism and drugs, to be precise — the film is a loving, strenuously respectful portrait of his cousin, Shirley Novick, on the eve of her 100th birthday.
The documentary, which screens January 15 at the New York Jewish Film Festival and clocks in at a mere 28 minutes, is full of awkward angles and random shifts from color to black-and-white. It’s a clumsy effort, technically speaking, full of production flaws that are bizarre to the point of distraction, yet the story that Reed tells is charming enough that you can almost overlook the film’s defects.
On the new record by the Israeli quintet Fogel and the Sheriffs, Jesus packs a gun, the Pope is a woman, and the Second Coming occurs in the bedroom. One song calls the Holocaust a “soiree”; another orders a Muslim woman to “put on a burka, baby” to hide her body, from her head to her clitoris. Long before the album’s final song declares, “I was crucified inside my mama’s womb,” the point is clear: nothing is too sacred to satire.
Produced by avant-garde guru John Zorn and released on his Tzadik label, “Exorcism” blends the blues with touches of jazz, punk and klezmer. Despite the superficial shock, these songs are meant as social commentary, not hate speech or blasphemy. The liner notes include a prominent image of a Star of David, quote the prophet Jeremiah, and praise “the High Holy One, Blessed be He, who brought us to life, maintained us alive and led us to this moment! AMEN!” It seems the band has no problem with faith, only with organized religion.
Listen to ‘Bless Me’:
When I phoned Gary Lucas this week he was right in the middle of renewing his Forward subscription. “I’m a religious reader,” he punned effortlessly. He also had his cell phone pressed to his other ear, waiting to buy concert tickets. It comes as little shock that the prolific composer, songwriter, guitar legend and musical Renaissance man is a consummate multitasker.
Over the past 30 years, Lucas has collaborated with everyone from Iggy Pop, Patti Smith, and Nick Cave to Bob Weir, Lou Reed, Allen Ginsberg and, perhaps most famously, avant-bluesman Captain Beefheart. His music runs the stylistic gamut from blues to country to jazz to classical. (“Each to his own taste. And I’ve got very catholic taste, in the small ‘c’ sense of the word.”) He’s been called “the thinking man’s guitar hero” by The New Yorker and “the greatest living guitar player” by cognitive psychologist and record producer Dan Levitan. In the last year alone, Lucas has performed in China, Europe, Cuba, Croatia, the Canary Islands, and all across the United States, in support of one or another of his seemingly endless array of musical projects.