music book review/Lou Reed & Tai Chi, Joni Mitchell | Night Flight & Desolation Center

it wasn't their house. it was hers.

music book review/Lou Reed & Tai Chi, Joni Mitchell | Night Flight & Desolation Center

It’s a mixed bag this week, because last week was kind of a lot — I had a deadline for a an assignment elsewhere and then of course there was Bob. So this week I am telling you about things to read and watch.

Lou Reed: The Art Of The Straight Line

On the outside, it might seem like Lou Reed: The Art of the Straight Line: My Tai Chi would only be of interest to a reader who is fanatic about Lou Reed and/or deeply interested in martial arts, or a combination of both. I picked it up because it was on sale at Target, of all places1 and because I have studied both tai chi and qi gong over the past decades for health-related reasons. I am not any kind of serious student in either of these, but I did always find it fascinating how dedicated Lou Reed was to tai chi, and did get to see at least one or two shows where he brought his tai chi teacher, Ren Guangyi, onstage with him and had him perform while he played. It confused many people and I loved that Lou Reed could still do that.

Lou intended to write a book about Tai Chi and this book contains all of the extant pieces of writing he had accomplished towards this project before we lost him in 2013. The rest of the book are interviews with the people who knew him in that part of his life. Some of them are musicians and artists, like Tony Visconti, Julian Schnabel, Hal Wilner, or Iggy Pop. There are interviews with other teachers of martial arts and Tai Chi, there are all sorts of cool photos of Lou practicing tai chi poses on his roof overlooking the Hudson River; and it was all put together by his widow, Laurie Anderson, along with Lou’s closest tai chi buddies, Stephan Berwick, Bob Currie, and Scott Richman. There are emails back and forth between Lou and various people; there are interviews with pretty much anyone who had any connection to Lou’s study of tai chi. There is a beautiful poem written by Anne Waldman after Lou died. It isn’t a book you have to read from start to finish, and you can absolutely page through it and read random essays and find something interesting.

I know you are thinking, “Why is this interesting at all if I don’t care about tai chi”? Because it is incredibly interesting! I find the minutiae the most fascinating thing of all; my favorite interviews in this book are the ones with the people who worked with Lou as his personal assistant over the years. And, if you thought this book was going to try to present Lou as some kind of peaceful bodhisattva, he is just as cranky and awful in here at times as he is in the Will Hermes biography. I appreciate that everyone just let Lou be Lou.

Music book review: Lou Reed: The King of New York by Will Hermes

Caryn Rose • Feb 21, 2024

This is not a new book, and as a writer I know I would love it if everyone wrote about my book right when it came out. But also, there is so much content to consume these days and it takes time to get through it in a thoughtful way and honestly if someone read something I wrote and reviewed it three months or a year later, I’d still be thrilled. (This i…

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There’s a quote from Lou on the back of the book that says, “My tai chi has protected my body.” But there’s also a quote inside the book where he explains to a journalist that he does tai chi at his age because it keeps his dick big. Both of these things can be true, and good for him on all counts. (And, I mean, good for Laurie.)

I think the thing I value the most about this book is how it gave me the opportunity to once again use Lou Reed’s music as a doorway to a million other things. So many of the artists who were formative to my understanding of rock and roll also talked about their influences, and so I’d go listen to Bob Dylan at age 11 because the Beatles mentioned him, or how Patti Smith meant I was walking around high school carrying books of poetry by Rimbaud and Verlaine, and how the Velvets introduced me to Warhol and that gigantic circus tent of art and artists and downtown New York City. You pull on one thread and it immediately shows you another 15 paths you can go down. It’s hard to have that experience any more, not because there isn’t more I can learn, it’s that I have to dig deeper these days to do that, and sometimes I am human and tired and not as motivated as when I was 12 or 14 or 17 and wanting to consume everything new and different. This is a kind and gentle push into suggesting that maybe I might want to try tai chi again, that maybe I will find something in it that will help me, and it also helped me understand Lou’s last decades. All of this is incredibly valuable. I am grateful that Laurie is such a strong steward of her husband’s creative legacy and love how we will endlessly benefit from it.

postscript: I saw Ray Manzarek speak at a Rockages2 back in the 80s and the one point he made that I still remember is that if an artist doesn’t designate an executor then your family ends up as your executors and if you don’t get along with your family or they disagree with your life and art you are leaving that in their hands by not having a will. This was in response to a phlanx of Doors fans who were outraged at some recent Doors reissue and that’s when Ray explained that Jim Morrison died intestate so his parents got to make decisions about his music and his art and his unpublished work.

“I have always found ‘Our House’ slightly disturbing, if irresistable. It wasn’t their house, after all. It was hers. She’d purchased it with that first record advance.”

I will be writing about this book at great and detailed length closer to the time of publication in June, but I shared this quote on Instagram the other night and it resonated with a lot of folks.

I cannot overstate how important this book is, not just about Joni Mitchell, but as a book about a female artist written by a woman. There aren’t many books like this out there and definitely not about people like Joni Mitchell.

disclaimer: Ann Powers is a friend and a mentor but that just makes me more apt to be as truthful as possible

If you are a reader of a certain age, you will remember Night Flight. If you didn’t have or couldn’t afford MTV, you probably (like me) scoured the TV listings on a regular basis looking for anything at all related to music, anywhere. Night Flight was one of those places, and now you can relive all of it because it is now an on-demand video service, a thing I did not know until a recent article tipped me off to it. You can watch original episodes but they also have a vast library of music documentaries. Some of them are the usual suspects that are already places like Amazon and Netflix, but there’s plenty that aren’t. They also have a bunch of retro horror movies and short films and cult favorite type things. The entire Penelope Spheeris Decline of… is there. I am going to get a lot of utility out of this subscription. There’s an app, I stream it to my TV via Chromecast, there are probably other ways to watch it but that is my preferred method.

Last weekend I watched a documentary called Desolation Center that tells the story of a handful of DIY music/art events held in non-traditional venues — like the middle of the fucking desert or on a boat — in the 80s that definitely inspired the likes of Lollapalooza (Perry is right in the middle of everything and he admits it), Coachella and Burning Man. But more importantly, there’s unbelievable footage of Sonic Youth, Redd Kross, the Minutemen and Einstürzende Neubauten playing at these events. It avoids a lot of the pitfalls of many zero-budget underground music docs in that it’s well-edited, it doesn’t skimp on the live footage, and they talked to pretty much everyone who was involved who’s still alive. But mostly it’s well-edited and the director clearly understands how to tell a story. The film is available in other places besides Night Flight and I recommend watching it no matter where you get it from if this seems at all remotely interesting to you. I honestly thought I’d watch it while I ate dinner and if it sucked I could just find something else. I was absolutely riveted.

  1. Don’t judge. I buy so many of my books at bookstores or from, I am entitled to take advantage of the occasional sale. Also, I liked the idea of influencing the Target algorithm about what book buyers are interested in.

  2. Rockages was a giant music flea market with vendors and room after room of videos and rare films and it was the fucking coolest thing ever. It’s where I got to see the Bob Gruen New York Dolls footage (Gruen would show up with the films, screen them, then leave) and a million other things that in the pre-internet days normal plebes just didn’t have access to. I got my tape of Bruce’s answering machine message from a kid I met at a screening of some rare 70s footage at Rockages! We should bring these things back. Record fairs are close but not quite there.