Lonely Coney Island on the first day of November. The seagulls rule the school; the beach is shockingly swept; the borscht and blintzes are there for the taking. We remove what litter we find; make wishes and shyly feed them to the sea. The wind whips around us with gusto; the sun dips in and out of sight; the rides stand still like dogs awaiting unreliable masters. In Brighton Beach we find half-sour pickles, caviar, black bread, and, finally, prune chocolates, the candy forever in my grandparents’ blue dish. The Proustian madeleines of my wilderness of a childhood, writ large in a Russian’s lady hand.
A world without Lou Reed feels inconceivable to me. He’s any punk rock kid’s dad—all of punk rock’s dad, really—and I’d assumed the fact he’d initially survived his drug years meant the heroin had converted his blood to some high-tech preservative that rendered him not only timeless but immortal. God knows his what’s-it-to-you fuckery permanently opened all kinds of roads and minds when it came to mixing and matching genders, races, styles, sorrows. He was the deepest superficial guy rock ‘n’ roll never knew, a tabula rasa of high-low poetry and one-note chords, the reigning king of Open and Shut, not to mention Ugly Is Beautiful. In high school I dressed as Nico partly because it was the closest I could get to Lou. All the way through college, I had one sign on my dormroom door: “LOU IS GOD.” In the first week I moved to NYC, I actually met him. I was ogling a display of his Between Thoughts and Expression in the window of the old 8th Street Barnes and Noble, and turned around to discover him looking at me looking at his book. “I don’t believe it,” I said. “Believe it, dude,” he responded, and sped down the street before I could ruin the purity of the drama. It was at that moment I knew I was supposed to grow old in this Crazy Apple. I do take some solace in imagining that, wherever Lou is now, he’s shoving the 31 years he lived longer than Lester Bangs in the late music critic’s face. But, man. Today I am totally inconsolable about a city, planet, universe without my Lou. From now on it’ll be another loneliness I carry: forever waiting for my man.
Growing up, “soft” was an insult. The ultimate one, actually. In my family it was an umbrella term that meant out-of-shape, clueless, indolent, addled, unvigilant, prissy, overly sensitive, entitled. You were soft if you didn’t take it in the chin. Soft if you asked for a ride when you could walk. Soft if you whined “I can’t.” Soft if you couldn’t run a mile or sported a gut. Soft if you cried when you dropped your ice cream. Definitely soft if you were a tattletale.
Every usage of the word was anathema to us, and by “us,” I am referring to my dad and therefore my little sister, my mother, my myself—my father’s subjects, in other words, to whom principles came down by edict.
Soft hands meant you lacked a work ethic, the might or tenacity to do physical labor. A soft voice meant you were namby-pamby, couldn’t assert yourself. Being soft-hearted meant you were a sucker. There was a long list of what was soft, and at the top of it were the rich people in my Greater Boston town, which literally had a “wrong side of the tracks” since the Mass Pike divided the more working-class sections from the wealthier people on the Hill. The rich girls wore rugbys and braids, had sleepover parties with cutesie PJs, whispered about their crushes. The girls in my neighborhood wore tight designer jeans and feathered hair, hung out at the corner store, had boyfriends with whom they did more than hold hands long before they hit puberty.
Though gentle, Charlie Bucket was not soft, which is why he inherited the Chocolate Factory. Harriet the Spy was not soft; all you had to do was look at her work uniform and you knew she was tough as nails. In those slippers and knitted sweaters, Mister Rogers and his braying singsong was ridiculously soft. And the Beatles, oy the Beatles. With their thin voices, those fa-la-la proclamations of love—forget it. So soft. As a matter of fact, all white music was soft, except punk rock and, of course, the Stones. With their big bass lines and bigger tongues, the Rolling Stones were hard in every sense of the word. Before I even understood what sex entailed, I groked that the Beatles were the equivalent of making love and the Stones were all about fucking. Which, by definition, was not soft. Continue Reading →