In the early summer of 2004, I was assigned a QnA with Reed ahead of a Carnegie Hall concert and following the release of some photography books of his. 2004 was my 20th year as a journalist and I figured I could handle just about any challenge, but QnA with Lou wasn’t going to be easy. I told Ari Mintz the photographer on the story to bring his coolest gear figuring that wowing Lou on that angle would be the best way to tame his cantankerousness.
Reed arrived to the café where the interview was to take place about fifteen minutes late and shrugged off the photo shoot saying he was hungry and wanted to eat. Ari, who had another assignment pressing, sidled up to Lou and put his camera in Reed’s face. Lou was transfixed by the gear, and Ari directed him to spot near a construction site and took some fantastic photographs before heading on his way.
Unfortunately Lou seemed to be slipping back into his crabby cocoon, as I sat down with him for our one on one. Without being asked he began talking about a recent guest spot he did with a band at a dance club nearby. He then asked me if I was there. I wasn’t.
“Why not?” He asked with palpable anger and dismay rising in his voice. Well, the truth was I didn’t have the assignment then and while I love Lou’s music, I don’t love anyone’s music so much that I attend every local performance.
That didn’t seem like a productive answer, so I tried a different tack. It conflicted with Game 4 of the NBA Finals. I told him that I wrote about hoops for the New York Sun, and I’d predicted that the Detroit Pistons were going to beat the heavily favored Los Angeles Lakers and I wanted to watch my prediction come true.
Suddenly Lou was wide eyed with wonder.
“How did you know that?” Suddenly the crappy guy was gone and he was a little boy asking to see a magic trick again. It was a rare time that the truth was as productive as a well thought out lie.
I spent the next 20 minutes explaining how the same sort of advanced statistics that were all the rage in baseball had become part of basketball and that on the basis point differential I had pegged Detroit as a much better team. Reed eagerly wrote down names like John Hollinger and Dean Oliver.
I gently steered the conversation back to music and got this gem, “sometimes you have to remember that the audience just doesn’t have ears. They have these little things attached to the side of their heads but they don’t know how to use them.”
After about an hour, his publicist tugged him away from our dialogue, but he asked for my information in case he had questions about basketball. I’d been writing about the NBA for barely a year at that point, I was pretty flattered.
Lou never got in touch with me but our paths crossed from time to time, typically at the Village Vanguard. Lou lived around the corner and would drop by for the occasional set by Bill Frisell or somesuch. Sometimes he’d ask me about the Knicks, other times about some superstar or another. The last time I saw him was three years ago. My sports writing career was grinding to a halt around then; the Sun had gone under and my other outlet was going downmarket. Lou and I didn’t speak that night. He saw me and between songs, he pointed at me and mimicked the hand motions and flick of the wrist of a player shooting a basketball and smiled. I figured even if I never wrote about sports again, I’d made a small, unique—and wholly unexpected–impact.
And oh yeah, at Carnegie in 2004, he did “Perfect Day” backed mostly by vocalist Antony and cellist Jane Scarpantoni. It’s one of my favorite live performances ever.