David Heffernan is a good friend and a regular confidante. I’ve written about our relationship in a previous post, and that’s available here. A one-time RTÉ presenter on radio and television, he’s also made some of the best and most celebrated music television in the country’s history. As one of the founding partners at Frontier Films, he’s travelled far and wide and his production credits include films on Van Morrison, The Velvet Underground, Stevie Wonder and Fleetwood Mac.
In the aftermath of Lou Reed’s death in October, 2013, David posted this personal piece on his own Facebook page. We’re delighted that he has allowed us to re-post that short testimony here.
LOU REED, NEW YORK
The interior walls of the Brownstone building off Fifth Avenue were thick with a Molasses like film, the result, I assumed, of many years of music rehearsals, and perhaps much else beside. This was not a glamorous place. It was spring time in 1993 and I’d been asked by Warner Bros. Records in Los Angeles to travel to New York to meet with the Velvet Underground. The band had finally agreed to come together for a one off tour that would result in a live album and performance film. Frontier Films had been tasked with producing the film, but only if the band decided I was up to it. This was to be an audition rather than a meeting.
Curating the legacy of a group of musicians who had already attained mythical status while making a new film of their Paris show was always going to be challenging. I knew that much. And when Lou Reed emerged through the grimy elevator doors I thought the game was up.
As things turned out, it was the beginning of an incredibly stimulating, exciting and exhausting eight months that would result in a live performance film from the beautiful and famed Olympia Theatre in Paris: Velvet Redux , and a documentary: Curious… the Velvet Underground in Europe. Both films are now on permanent exhibition in the Museum of Television & Radio in New York and the Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh.
Subsequently, a restored version of Warhol’s Chelsea Girls augmented the UK screenings of the new productions on Channel 4. This was the first ‘all night’ broadcast of its kind, an apposite event given the Velvet’s and Warhol’s lineage. It was a case, as Lou once said when referencing the first Velvet’s album, of being ‘the first and the best’.
So I’ll always be grateful to Lou Reed. Some six months after my initial and, it must be said, somewhat terrifying encounter with him, Lou phoned my Dublin office with an invitation to see his Dublin show. As it happened, I was in London preparing to work on Classic Albums. In fact I never saw or spoke with him again after the New York seminar and screenings of Redux and Curious some months earlier.
Lou Reed’s writing was full of prescience, honesty and compassion, qualities at odds with his public persona. The visceral, existential honesty of ‘Heroin’ and the enduringly beautiful refrain of ‘Pale Blue Eye’s’ reflected a humanism that was more in keeping with the Lou Reed I was fortunate to work with than the misanthropic Lou of journalistic lore. But I suspect he delighted in such mischief. Linger on Lou.