In the week and a half since Lou Reed's death, we've gotten dozens of glimpses of the musician's notoriously disgruntled side: the cranky interviews, the public feuds, the general cantankerousness. From Rolling Stone today, then, comes a far rarer gift: an intimate view of Reed's gentler side and final moments, penned by his widow, the musician and performance artist Laurie Anderson.
Those last moments, it turns out, were rather more pleasant than succumbing to illness in a grey hospital bed: Reed died doing tai chi, which he practiced obsessively late in his life, in his wife's arm's at the couple's home in Southampton. In a brief obituary last week, Anderson noted that he died "looking at the trees and doing the famous 21 form of tai chi." Her new rendering is worth savoring slowly:
I have never seen an expression as full of wonder as Lou's as he died. His hands were doing the water-flowing 21-form of tai chi. His eyes were wide open. I was holding in my arms the person I loved the most in the world, and talking to him as he died. His heart stopped. He wasn't afraid. I had gotten to walk with him to the end of the world. Life—so beautiful, painful and dazzling—does not get better than that.
The remembrance, of course, extends well beyond the artist's untimely end; it contains several amusing details from the early days of Anderson's relationship with him, including the fact that upon meeting him she thought he was British. There's also this gem: Reed proposed to her seemingly spontaneously on the phone in 2008, and they were married day later:
"Why don't we get married?" he asked. "I'll meet you halfway. I'll come to Colorado. How about tomorrow?"
"Um—don't you think tomorrow is too soon?"
"No, I don't."
And so the next day, we met in Boulder, Colorado, and got married in a friend's backyard on a Saturday, wearing our old Saturday clothes.
Not that we ever assumed Reed treated his loved ones the way he spoke to overzealous interviewers, but it's still more than striking to find his romantic side chronicled in such intimate, unsparing vignettes describing the guy who made Metal Machine Music. Anderson's farewell piece is available in its entirety at Rolling Stone; unsurprisingly, Reed is the subject of the magazine's new cover story tribute.