|Tai chi exponent
While the quintessential New Yorker has been
the subject of previous greatest hits collections, never before
has Lou Reed taken charge of such a project himself. With
the new double CD, NYC Man: The Collection, Reed has personally
overseen the song selection as well as the digital remastering
that brings many of his defining songs back to life.
One can debate the merits of a new best-of collection, but
either way it gives Japan a rare and welcome opportunity to
see The Man live. As part of a brief Japan tour, Reed is booked
for two nights at the staid, sit-down Koseinenkin Kaikan in
NYC Man arrives just months after The Raven, an extended,
two-CD affair based on the poems of Edgar Allen Poe that was
four years in the making. Despite some classic, spare Reed
numbers, the work was derided as pretentious by many critics.
Following soon after, NYC Man offers a chance for Reed to
reconnect with an audience that may not care for his literary
For the album, Reed supervised the remastering of many analog,
reel-to-reel recordings of his most durable work, taking listeners
from zero to the present. The NYC Man tour is seeing the 61-year-old
play many cherished songs, from counterculture anthems "Sweet
Jane" and "Walk on the Wild Side" to
newer, more contemplative material from Ecstasy and The Raven.
The tour has been getting good reviews, with Reed performing
extended sets approaching three hours. High marks are also
being given to the band Reed has assembled. The five-piece,
drummer-less unit consists of veteran bassist Fernando Saunders,
guitarist Mike Rathke, honey-toned back-up singer Antony and
the accomplished cellist Jane Scarpantoni.
The traveling act also has the unusual addition of a martial-arts
expert in the form of tai chi master Ren Guan-Yi, with whom
Reed has been studying since the '90s. The famously
taciturn musician ("He doesn't want to talk
at all," lamented a recent, distressed interviewer
in London's Guardian newspaper) was surprisingly voluble
on the subject in an interview with Kung Fu magazine.
"Everybody does something," said Reed. "Some
people race cars, others collect stamps. I find tai chi to
be philosophically, aesthetically, physically and spiritually
fascinating." The wiry singer went on to describe the
personal connection he felt with Ren, which led him to devote
three hours a day to tai chi and to decide to bring him on
tour, where Ren appears to strike poses on stage.
"That kind of tai chi was made for me," Reed
said. "I think that everything happens for a reason,
everything happens when it's going to happen [and tai
chi] is made for someone like me."
Reed likens the devotion required to master tai chi to the
devotion he has given to his music. "One of the things
I thought about when I learned more about Ren [is that] he
has concentrated on this his entire life. Me, I've
concentrated on music pretty much to the exclusion of other
The work of celebrated downtown New York icon Reed had been
unknown to the tai chi master, who emigrated from China a
decade ago. "At the beginning I didn't know
his music," Ren recalled. "I was talking to
a friend and I said I was teaching a musician now, his name
was Reed, and later he said to me, 'You mean Lou Reed?'
I said yes. He said, 'Are you kidding?' I say,
'I'm not kidding.' He says, 'Wow,
he's very, very famous!' I go, 'Oh, I
don't know!' After, I tell people I teach Lou
Reed tai chi, they don't believe me."
Lou Reed plays Koseinenkin Kaikan
on September 19-20. See listings for details.
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