Mick Rock Remembers Lou Reed

The prolific rock 'n' roll photographer pays tribute to the genre's soulful patriarch

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The cover of "Transformer" (1972). Photo by Mick Rock.

I first met Lou Reed at the Kings Cross Cinema (now La Scala) in  London in July of 1972. David Bowie took me backstage to greet him. Like myself, David was an absolute admirer. Until that point, Lou had had zero commercial success, neither with his now mythic band The Velvet Underground, nor as a solo artist. He was a creature of the netherworld. His record labels considered him a failure. The cashbox had simply not rung enough for them to appreciate him.

It was the night of his first ever concert outside of the United States. He was sitting in a shadowy corner, quite alone. We exchanged a few pleasantries, he complimented David on his attire and he went onstage a couple of minutes after midnight. I had been waiting for this for a long time. My focus was total. My intent was intense. He looked like a specter. He looked beautiful. I wanted to totally absorb his visual being through my lens. To suck on his aura. To immerse myself in his art. It was like a Jungian journey into some primal hinterland. And I loved it. And of course that was the night the ‘Transformer’ image popped into my lens and embedded itself onto film, a taste of magic whose potency was instant and totally in synch with Lou’s art, and whose magic has never dimmed. The stars were clearly auspiciously aligned that night.

And thus began our friendship and my fascination with his image, which we endlessly explored under all kinds of circumstances and in so many different places, weathering the slings and arrows and the outrageous antics of that crazed decade, the ’70s and beyond. And now he’s gone. The gifts that he gave belong to the ages. And I shed many tears on Sunday when I heard that he had left the stage for good. I really couldn’t believe it. He had always seemed that the could survive anything: even his liver transplant. He was a true gladiator, a fearless warrior, and also a man of extreme kindness and compassion. If he was your friend in the fullest sense, he was your friend forever. His public persona was tough and uncompromising and he had a sting in his tongue. But to those that he embraced he was sweet and tender and caring. He truly was. He loved and he was very loved. He had a singing soul. And I miss him so much already. But I’m going to have to stop now. I can feel the welling of the tears again. And I will let them come. This giant of an artist was my true friend for over 40 years.

Rock is a rock ‘n’ roll photographer who recently collaborated with Reed on the book Transformer, an anthology of iconic images from Reed’s life and career.