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No Mr. Nice Guy: Lou Reed

On the late Lou Reed’s 69th birthday, Elizabeth Wurtzel explained that contrary to the assertions of Philip Roth and others, the problem with Jewish male artists is not that they are too nice

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Lou Reed in 1972 in Amsterdam, Netherlands. (Gijsbert Hanekroot/Redferns)

This piece was originally published on March 2, 2011, Lou Reed’s 69th birthday. The musician died Sunday.

I want to wish Lou Reed a happy birthday, but first I want to tell you a story that says something important, albeit indirect, about Lou’s life and his career, and the fact that he is such a legendary asshole. So please bear with me.

While I was living in New Haven a few years ago, I made plans to meet a high-reward, high-maintenance friend halfway at a Bruce Springsteen concert in Bridgeport. It soon became clear that this plan had all the charm of being inconvenient for both of us, and in a hateful place. My friend—I’ll call her Daphne, because that is her name—enlisted her brother to drive to the venue, and it was a great concert: This was during a time that Bruce was closing shows with an apocalyptic, prophetic version of Alan Vega’s “Dream Baby Dream.” After the show, Daphne and I went backstage, and for reasons that escape me, her brother went to move the car, which was ill-advised as there was no way he could get past security without me. Anyway, to bring this on home, we’d been chatting with the Boss for at least 45 minutes, he was telling us about how Philip Roth is his favorite author, and somehow Daphne’s lingering sibling comes up. So we reveal to a very astonished Bruce Springsteen that Daphne’s brother is somewhere in the parking lot waiting for us.

So here’s the takeaway: Bruce is gob-smacked that we have left this poor, lost brother somewhere out there, even though, truth be known, Daphne has issues with anyone she’s related to (and anyone she’s not related to, including people she’s never met), and her brother’s lonely parking lot exile is completely fine with her, I think, and possibly even a desirable thing. In any case, Bruce gets up off the couch, leaves the building, and goes and finds Daphne’s brother, and brings him back to his dressing room.

Now let me make this clear—I’ll even put it in Passover terms: It was Bruce himself and not an angel of Bruce who went looking for the errant brother, even though factotums and minions were here there and everywhere, and could easily have been dispatched.

I really don’t know why Bruce was so kind in this way to Daphne’s brother, who he did not even know, but this story is consistent with others that you’ll hear from almost anybody. People who live in Monmouth County who have been picked up in the Springsteenmobile while hitchhiking, and that sort of thing, is the most common version of this story. I’ve been bringing friends backstage with me to meet Bruce for maybe 15 years now, and he remembers names, he remembers their brothers-in-laws’ names when he signs autographs. He’s a hopeless mensch.

Bruce Springsteen really got any creative person’s dream career, and his good-heartedness and good-spiritedness are part of it: both because it made the people behind the scenes want to do their jobs that much better, but it also means that he connects with an audience in a way that holds them close. Is he really cool? No, of course not. I’m a huge Springsteen fan, and yet if either he or Bob Dylan had to be erased from the world’s hard drive, I would save Bob Dylan’s work for sure—he’s the greater talent, and by leaps and bounds and skyscrapers and rocket blasts. But Bob Dylan is an alien to his public. He’s disconnected and distant in a way that Bruce is present and close, which is, in itself, a talent.

All of this leads me to the strange case of Lou Reed, who makes Bob Dylan look like Will Rogers. Bruce Springsteen, with his good manners and total decency is kind of the nice Jewish boy that Lou Reed—and, of course, Robert Zimmerman of Hibbing, Minnesota—ought to be. Which seems counterintuitive—after all, Lou Reed and Bob Dylan are Jewish, and according to Philip Roth (Bruce’s favorite author after all), the hardest thing for a Jewish boy to be is bad, and yet they are both legendarily unpleasant people.

But you know what? The anecdotal evidence—at least among our artistic icons—suggests that Roth got it wrong. I mean, Norman Mailer was not just a wife-stabbing wretch himself—he actually helped get another wretch out of jail to murder again. Woody Allen’s heart wants what it wants and … oh boy. Roman Polanski—dear me. Leonard Cohen—does he seem nice to you? Never mind Roth himself, who both bears witness against himself and has Claire Bloom and others to corroborate his self-accusations.

So all I can say is: What the fuck was Philip Roth talking about? Yes, yes: I know—the CPA who lives in a split-level in Demarest, New Jersey. All the same, as public figures expressing the notion of Jewish identity—or denying their Jewishness altogether, which is of course the most Jewish thing you can do—the creative Jewish man isn’t very nice at all. In fact, he has been an absolute dick.

To get back to the contrary and instructive example of Bruce Springsteen, playing the role of the Christian character known as the Good Samaritan—what could be less Jewish? All that good-natured generosity is way too open-hearted and even obsequious, it lacks the judgmental prickliness that makes Jews so picky and stingy with their love of human beings, despite a huge and unbridled passion for humanity. In any case, this is the best I can do by way of giving an ethnocentric explanation for the fact that I am trying to write a heartfelt tribute to Lou Reed on the occasion of his 69th birthday, and I can hardly find a soul alive who doesn’t have an unpleasant story to tell about some chance encounter that they had with Lou Reed.

If, like me, you happen to be a native New Yorker, there is a good chance that you take Lou Reed’s presence for granted, like the woman you see almost every day walking her Pomeranian when you are out strolling with your dog: He really lives here, he takes the number 1 train, he sees documentaries about R. Crumb at the Film Forum. The only other celebrity who comes close to being as present within the municipal bloodstream is Ethan Hawke, who proves Kurt Vonnegut was right when he said we are what we pretend to be, because Lou Reed has cultivated ordinary-creative-person-ness with such botanical intensity that it’s become who he is. And so it is, with Lou Reed living among us for many years with his wife Sylvia on West End Avenue opposite the Calhoun School, and now with Laurie Anderson on West 10th Street. An unusual number of people have had chance encounters with him, and apparently it’s been universally unfun.

Lou Reed stories are the opposite of Bruce Springsteen stories. No one’s brother-in-law is ever rescued from a parking lot and treated like a king. The pedestrian admirer or the average autograph desirer is greeted with derisive hostility, with the precise prototype of the punk-rock sneer that has made Lou Reed the precise prototype of the sneering punk-rocker. I remember buying a vinyl version of Live In Italy when I was in high school and getting into the 79th Street subway station on Broadway to be greeted by none other than Mr. Reed, who looked like none other than Robert Plant. Of course I was completely excited by the coincidence. It’s not like I’d bought something common like the first Velvets’ LP or something obvious like Transformer—and I was certain he’d be moved by my fanaticism. I started jumping up and down—I really was jumping up and down—and telling him to look and see what I had, which was no doubt annoying, but still, this was long before the reissue of all the Velvets’ stuff, no one cared about Lou Reed unless he/she was also claiming to be named Holly from Miami, and I was a teenager. Instead of responding, Lou Reed walked away and started kicking the tiled wall at the platform where people waited for the IRT, to show his displeasure with my enthusiasm for his work.

After that I learned my lesson. Many years later, I had an experience that might have been phenomenal if I hadn’t thought better of it at the time. At either the behest or the request of an editor I cared about, some time not long after the Berlin Wall came tumbling down, I was drinking at the legendary Lion’s Head in Sheridan Square with a young painter who had never been out of East Berlin. I don’t mean that he’d never been out of East Germany—for whatever reason, he had never even ventured beyond city limits, which he explained was strangely common in iron-curtain Europe. Somehow I asked who he’d most like to meet in New York City, and he said that the album Berlin had sustained his cohort for so many years, because it was the only way any of them know that anyone on the other side of the wall knew or cared that they were alive. Of course, the funny part about that album is that when it was made in 1973, Lou Reed had himself never been to Berlin, it was about an idea. And I remember sitting and thinking how great it was that this German guy’s misunderstanding—his idea—about someone else’s understanding—his idea—had such great force. And somewhere between thought and expression—go ahead, assume that I’m lying, if I were you I would—into the bar walks Lou Reed himself. If this were a movie, only no screenwriter trying to maintain anything like verisimilitude would put such an absurdity into a script.

Here’s the takeaway: Despite what has to be called a miracle—I will not call it a coincidence, because this was all too much—I did not get up from my barstool to walk over to Lou’s frosty gulag archipelago on the other side of the Lion’s Head. Even the potential for great beauty—it would have been pretty great, and maybe life-alteringly amazing—wasn’t worth what my cost-benefit analysis told me was a more likely outcome of pedestrian unpleasantness, accompanied by that sneer.

This is why Lou Reed’s career has been both extraordinary and uneven. This is why a lot of those RCA albums from the ’70s are not merely produced distastefully—the quality is also actually shoddy: because that is what the career of an asshole looks like. Sometimes incredibly good work will get done because talented admirers will show up willing to do anything, and so you get an album like New York (made in the ’80s for Sire, but same thing), which was good work all around. But too often one is confronted by something like The Blue Mask, a beautiful contemplation of sobriety and love and commitment that has mediocre production values. Lou Reed’s post-Velvet career makes it obvious that it really was a band, because it’s only in those live recordings at the Academy in the early ’70s, like on Rock n Roll Animal, when Mick Ronson is on guitar, that solo Lou comes close to sounding as interesting as VU Lou. For all his talent, Lou Reed’s recorded output would be a whole lot better if a good collaborator—or two or three—were not so hard for him to find.

Lou Reed, of course, ought to be able to behave like a human being. But he’s not in the service industry—he’s not the waiter telling you about the branzino special, he’s not your florist or your cobbler or your chauffeur. It really doesn’t much matter if he’s polite or rude. It ought to matter to those in his intimate circle, and in the media saturated world, we ought to expect a good persona, but why do we need a good person? Because that’s what we need. The Kardashians are a barely-human shrine to the testament that all that matters is Lou Reed’s personality, because ability to create great works of art is no longer as valuable as a family full of K-named girls.

And that’s what I want to say on behalf of Lou Reed—but you can throw Dylan, Springsteen, Joni Mitchell, and a few others in there too: He came of age, went through a midlife crisis, and is now heading toward his shuffleboard Shangri-la days, in a time when a musician—and really, I should say, a person—truly could have a career. I mean, a substantial, lengthy career, one that allowed a relationship with an audience to develop with the same rhythms of a friendship, one that allowed for lousy work en route to genius, one that actually did allow the personality of the artist to become invested with meaning and significance that could be either delightful or deranged, one that made the music industry seem like a worthy enterprise and not just a bunch of schmucks who got lucky. And career in this context is a good word, it’s not a limiting notion like choosing to become a lawyer because what else is there; it’s a choice that is a real choice.

You might note that Lou Reed, and all the other people I pointed to almost parenthetically, have not hyphenated their lives. They aren’t designing a line of durable sportswear made of organic fibers for Kmart or running a small production company in a studio bungalow. They do the thing they do well, because it’s satisfying, and it’s a full life. And I’d say that people my age are the last group of Americans to know a life of creativity that can sustain a person financially, but also intellectually and emotionally. After us, it’s as if the world lost its ability to focus and stick to the plot. We will never know the life story of Vampire Weekend, because the curvaceous course of a life stretched out before us like a slinky unwinding is not a narrative that anyone knows how to sustain anymore.

What I think I’m saying is that what’s held my interest in Lou Reed through many anecdotes about his miserable personality and many albums that had maybe one good song on them, if that—“Coney Island Baby,” “The Bells,” I could go on and on—is the reality show that is Lou Reed was being expressed through all those albums, high and low, good and bad. He didn’t always get it right, but he tried to keep us informed, he tried to let us know what was up and what was what. He rightly titled an album Growing Up In Public, because that is what he got to do. Lou Reed gave us the first Velvet Underground album in 1965, when he was 23, which means we’ve had 46 years of living a tattered scattered life, one that was underneath the bottle, that involved waves of fear, that eventually brought him to the last shot, and that has gotten him to the point where he is living with and loving a woman who is his equal, who is a substantial person—an outcome about as unlikely as his recovery from heroin addiction (I’ve been told that about one in 35 manage it).

We got to hear this story. We got to hear a life happen in all its imperfection and misery and elation and contentedness, and realize again that the great thing about life is not that the future is predictable—it’s that you have absolutely no idea what will happen. Happy people consider that good news. And if you want to see that human story unfold, if you want to understand that only the unexpected life is worth a damn, spend some time with 46 years of Lou Reed’s work, music that leaped and then looked. Safety is for the godless and the faithless.

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M. Brukhes says:

To the question of how this monstrously uninteresting and unilluminating CRAPOLA got published, there is one simple answer: it’s Tablet….

To the question of why I spent 5 minutes of my otherwise finite and rapidly diminishing life reading it requires a more complicated consideration.

Fortunately for the readers of this article, I’ll withhold the analysis.

Though if I weren’t so discreet, I’m sure Tablet would be willing to pay top dollar.

As long as what I said was uninteresting….

Actually, I met Lou Reed once in Boston. He was polite, made eye-contact, and even signed my notebook.

intheblanks says:

Minor correction: the first Velvet Underground record came out in 1967, when Lou Reed was 25.

I was the exclusive photographer for the first Woman in Music Awards in New York City. While taking a celebrity group photo including;
Award-Winner Laurie Anderson and her husband Lou Reed, Lou was the only one who would not cooperate.
- Celebrity entertainment Photographer, Neil Seiffer

My kids met Lou Reed two weeks ago in a coffee shop. He engaged my 8 year old daughter in a warm conversation about the book she was reading. He was really nice.

Martin Van Nostrand says:

I have to tell you, I’ve met Lou Reed twice. Both times he was completely cool w/ me, very conversational and friendly. And I think the “one good song per album” is not quite accurate.

Harold Lepidus says:

Correction : R+R Animal had Steve Hunter and Dick Wagner on guitars . .
Story I heard – Lou Reed was interviewed by a struggling freelance writer. Reed ordered an expensive bootle of champagne, and stuck the interviewer with the bill . . .

Previous entry posted in error . . .

Correction : R+R Animal had Steve Hunter and Dick Wagner on guitars, not Mick Ronson . .
Story I heard – Lou Reed was interviewed by a struggling freelance writer. Reed ordered an expensive bottle of champagne, and stuck the interviewer with the bill . . .

Bryan says:

I like Lou Reed but I thought this story was pretty funny and insightful. Just to clarify one thing, the author talks about Springsteen in a Jewish context which may lead people to believe he is Jewish. Despite his very Jewish sounding name he is in fact an Irish/Italian Catholic. That may account for the overly accommodating nature he possesses, and which Reed and Dylan seem to lack.

Paul Ramon says:

I like much of the writing and the tone, but your estimation of his 70′s & 80′s output is wildly off. One good song on those albums? Wow. And my jaw dropped before I even read the rest of the sentence about “The Blue Mask.”

fred lapides says:

Here is the takeaway…what the fuck is she babbling about?
in need of good editor and removing SELF from center of the piece.

Norman Samuels says:

Oh, you all miss the real point: Elizabeth Wurtzel is a wonderful writer and floats us along to a grand conclusion. More Wurtzel on Tablet!

J. of New York says:

So the point is that Elizabeth Wurtzel can get backstage and some artists who are and some who aren’t Jewish are nice and some aren’t.

Bravo Elizabeth, you are an intuitive writer. You nailed it.

First thought: Springsteen is not a Jew. I would have assumed Wurtzel would have realized this. Second: Lou Reed was a crappy singer with a decent band. He was probably an asshole because Wurtzel must have been really annoying. I’ve met him, too. He seemed okay.

I enjoyed reading this article.

“a friendship…..that made the music industry seem like a worthy enterprise and not just a bunch of schmucks who got lucky.”

Damn straight, Elizabeth.

wtf is this

Moyshe says:

i don’t understand why wurtzel feels the need to criticize certain jewish men for being jerks via being a jerk herself. this is one of the whiny-est things i’ve read in a while. and i get the feeling she hasn’t even read one of Roth’s novels.

Therry Neilsen-Steinhardt says:

I love that people think Elizabeth Wurzel is a wonderful writer. It proves that charity is not dead. Artists can be assholes or not. Look at Richard Wagner. A complete and total antisemitic asshole who happened to transform opera for all time. Don’t expect srtists to be NICE. I’ts overrated.

This article has several factual errors (already pointed out above, although the first VU album was recorded in ’66, event though it wasn’t released untill a year later), and saying that the slick glam rock of Rock ‘n’ Roll Animal is as close as Reed got to the VU in his solo career is pretty dumb. But I don’t doubt the guy is a bit of a prick. Not to mention a wife-beater.

Wow – generalizing about male Jewish artists on the basis of two musicians of a certain vintage! Isn’t that like concluding that female Jewish writers are psycho-bitch fame whores, Lizzie?

carol winer says:

Get over yourself. He hurt your feelings. Boo-hoo. Lou is an artist and a gentleman and quite intuitive!

carol winer says:

….and i prefer to SUPPORT our living artists!

jennifer says:

I managed to get through this long and rambling article. At different points I thought it was insightful and then ridiculous. An interesting read nonetheless. I think what should be pointed out is that artists, be they Jewish or not, are people and people are allowed to have good days and bad days. If you were to stop me every time I walked out the door to get a half-gallon of milk, I’d be pissed too, but then I’m not perfect and neither is Lou Reed.

Mr Mel says:

Lou Reed was, for many years, a customer in an electronics store that I owned in Midtown. I found him polite and friendly. I also remember a something that I read, aq few years ago, about a Seder being held at the Knitting Factory and that he was a participant. We’ve all got our faults and foibles and I probably wouldn’t have helped look for the brother in the parking lot.

Wow – generalizing about male Jewish artists on the basis of two musicians of a certain vintage! Isn’t that like concluding that female Jewish writers are “psycho-b**** fame-w****s,” Lizzie?

Note to Tablet editor: please don’t delete this comment again. It is a validly made criticism and uses words that have appeared in your pages many times before (this time, I “bleeped” them).

Rob Ross says:

Never mind how truly awful this article was (premise, content, style and incredibly overwhelming tone of whininess)…..to the question; “Leonard Cohen—does he seem nice to you? “…… uh, yes, very much so.

And much more self-aware then the author of “Prozac Nation”.

mindy greenbaum says:

I have two Lou Reed stories. The first one involves standing in line at CBGB’s and Lou telling my friend to “move your fat ass” so that he and his two minders could breeze right in. It was actually pretty funny. The other is that I was in a trendy vintage furniture store and I saw what I thought was a little whiny Jewish lady complaining to the clerk about the price of a table, but after a few minutes I realized it was Lou.
The Blue Mask is a fucking triumph, one of the best American rock records of the decade. His whole 70′s output (Transformer excluded, Berlin definitely included) is a joke.

Josh says:

I don’t think Roman Polanski is Jewish either. And I don’t understand how a “Jewish male artists with bad manners” article can avoid mentioning Harlan Ellison.

Hey, from what i’ve heard Dylan is a nice guy, generous to his friends, fans and charitable causes. As for Lou, he must be one of the coolest cats to ever walk the planet. He pushed the boundaries like few manage to do and survived. His Live Berlin album and dvd is a must have, probably even better than the original album.

GM12 says:

Roman Polanski was most definitely raised Jewish as a child and survived the Holocaust, –just FYI, Josh.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Roman_Polanski

Jason Jackson says:

“The last group of Americans……?” Have you not heard of JesusCulture.org or Irismin.org? Profound works coming from both who get what this life is truly all about.

Deborah Rudy says:

Bob Dylan and Lou Reed may be assholes. I’ve also had the privilege of meeting Paul Stanley, Elliot Easton, the late Doug Feiger, and Mickey Dolenz (just off the top of my head). Unbelievable mensches. So don’t go generalizing Jewish artists as assholes and Gentiles as heroes because of a few anecdotes about guys seriously in need of therapy and legally prescribed drugs.

Boring. if you can sum it up in about 2 paragraphs, maybe someone would actually read it. it may be an interesting story over a beer but it doesn’t hold water in text.

Daniel Winter says:

Really? This crap gets space in Tablet? Worst. Drivel. Ever.

Arean Schwartz says:

You “could go on and on……” and you did.

theMoja says:

OK, did someone lose a bet? How else to explain the publication of this “article”? Perhaps Tablet meant to publish it under the OMG section of “Twelve-Year-Olds’ Facebook Tantrums.” Or maybe the collective You intended to unleash it on April Fools Day, & somehow missed the mark. But I’m being unkind & that’s not my goal. My goal is for Tablet to explain: “What the frick were you thinking?” It was repetitive, muddled, drunkenly meandering & mean spirited–especially toward Jewish men. It badly needed at least a little bit of coherent analysis, & some thoughtful speculation about her experiences & impressions that might be relevant to a wider circle than her immediate friends, family & acquaintances. Ms Wurtzel actually wrote a book? Is she alright? Is someone looking in on her once in a while?

nero says:

By the time I got to the Lou Reed part of the story, I no longer cared. Editor?

The number of folks who have offered anecdotes regarding pleasant encounters with Lou Reed sort of falsifies the whole thesis of the article.

Madeline Bocaro says:

How can anyone pay this person for her writing. There is a great deal of incorrect information (mainly that Springsteen isn’t Jewish, which negates the entire point of her article) and complete self indulgence.

Lou Reed may very well be a creep, but that’s why we love him!

I’m glad to see so many other negative comments here. At least some of us won’t stand for nonsense written by someone who doesn’t bother to check the facts! She needs some serious editing!

Mark says:

I’m a fricking goy and even I find this article embarrassingly bad, and not just for its laughable factual errors (Springsteen Jewsih?!?!–WhereTF have you been since the mid-70s?!?!).

Love Lou. Anybody who ever listen to Take No Prisoners knows Lou is a hard nut, WGAF? Who ever promised you “nice guys” as artists? Grow up.

dl573 says:

The hostility expressed for Wurtzel in the comments demonstrates only that some Lou Reed fans are as vicious, rude and unsympathetic as Reed himself evidently is. The piece is not boring, not unilluminating, and obviously not “crap”. I found it quite engrossing with good anecdotes and a couple of worthy insights about the topic. That’s about as much as you can ask from good magazine journalism. And to those commenters snidely crying “editor!”: well, I am one, and I would be happy to run a piece like this. There is nothing wrong with a conversational tone, if the content is interesting, and this article passes that test.

Personally, I ran into Lou in SF once in the mid-90s, and suppressed the impulse to converse with him. Based on the information presented here by Wurtzel, that was the right call. Although I will undoubtedly infuriate the Reed worshipers even more by saying this, I also think Reed is, although talented and occasionally even great, significantly overrated by the music press. One reason is that, as WRITERS, rock critics tend to overrate the importance of lyrics when evaluating music, and underrate the importance of melody; to the audience, melody is clearly more important (otherwise, poetry books would outsell pop music). Another reason is that a lot of music writers are Jewish males with frustrated dreams of musical stardom who therefore identify with guys like Reed. (Arguably, this phenomenon contributed to the careers of Randy Newman and – yes – even the nauseatingly overpraised Dylan.)

As for great artists being jerks, this is certainly true, not least because their behavior is enabled by apologists like those above. However, the fact that this syndrome is common, does not make it a good thing, or excuse the behavior itself. I’m sure we would all prefer to live in a society where the laws of accountability, legal and social, apply to everyone – rock stars are not exempt.

M. Brukhes says:

DL573, the problem isn’t Lou Reed’s personality, it’s Wurtzel’s, which is on abundant, excessive display in this article. And if you are an editor announcing you’d be pleased to publish an article this shabby, then you, too, are part of that problem….

To quote an actor roughly as Jewish as Bruce Springsteen is, “Every time I try to get out, they keep pullin’ me back IN!!”

Matthew Fishbane says:

We’re pleased by the spirited response, but many of the comments seem to mistakenly assume that the author identifies Bruce Springsteen as Jewish. In fact, Wurtzel provides abundant evidence to the contrary: that he’s the good Samaritan, for example, and that, unlike Robert Zimmerman and Lou Reed, he represents an ideal that is unattainable. He is /like/ what a nice Jewish boy rocker might be, if there were such a thing. Bruce, at least, is not that — he can’t be, he’s not Jewish. He may read Philip Roth and be a mensch, but since when did that make anyone automatically Jewish?

M. Brukhes says:

At what point, though, does the responsibility for this misreading of Springsteen as Jewish rest with the author, and not the readers? Don’t you find it symptomatic, Mr. Fishbane, as well as problematic, that this article prompts a note of explanation from you?

To paraphrase a joke attributed to Winston Churchill, in the morning Springsteen will still be a non-Jew, Lou Reed will still be a Jew, and this article will still suck….

Erica says:

Springsteen has made reference in interviews to growing up in a Catholic family. Surprised anyone who identifies as even a sometimes fan of his music wouldn’t know this.

Austin Cambridge says:

What a pitiful half-assed article written by someone well qualified to produce such crap.

elizabeth bennett says:

i just re-read the article because so many commenters shrieked that the writer mis-identified bruce springsteen as jewish, where by contrast i read wurtzel to say he was NOT jewish, unlike dylan and reed. after the re-read, i see that i read it correctly and that springsteen was NOT stated to be jewish, and that a lot of people seem to have reading comprehension problems.

i thought the stuff near the end of this piece about the extremely negative changes in the way creative lives/careers play out in contemporary times was right on the money. right on the money. particularly given that it was, after all, written by a person in a position to know—i.e. a person who, once the backstage passes were no longer forthcoming, chose “to be a lawyer because what else is there.”

robert says:

You are all missing the point. This is a work of fiction, a brilliant
satirical historical rendition of a parricidal young woman in the 60′s drawing on contemporary canards like the lives of Mailer and Allen to rationalize her hatred of jewish men to her analyst. It is a female Portnoy’s Complaint, set decades ago which brilliantly mimics Roth’s hatred of jewish women. Kudos!!!

I’m sorry. Am I really reading letters asserting that it’s Elizabeth Wurtzel’s fault that some readers of this story couldn’t read closely enough to follow her when she makes it just extremely clear that Springsteen is a non-Jewish Catholic (and thus the Good Samaritan, etc)? I just read the story pretty quickly myself, and yet never, ever thought that she thought he was Jewish. Maybe because she made it SO EXTREMELY CLEAR THAT HE’S NOT JEWISH, AND IN FACT THAT’S A CENTRAL PART OF HER THESIS?

And it’s not like I’m a huge EW fan. Or feel any particular way about her work, positive or negative. I just happened to find this story, and read it.

No serious person could, or should, blame a writer because some of his or her readers don’t have the time, patience or bandwidth to understand what the fuck she’s saying. For fuck’s sake.

swordfish says:

1. as a musician who’s worked with both bruce and lou this article couldn’t be more dead on.

2. great writing

3. anyone who thinks she implies bruce is a yid is a moron

BroadwayBill says:

Well I moust be a moron because it certainly sounds to me like she’s implying he’s Jewish and considering she’s not the first person to make that mistake, I’m not holding it against her.

I just thought it was hard to believe after all these years….it would be hard to believe coming from a clearly intelligenent writer who seems otherwise clearly familiar with Bruce who is Irish/Italian and raised Catholic.

powzon says:

Regarding the writing, the information and propositions are great but quasi hip mannerism is still mannerism and the free use of “f–k” and “here’s the takeaway”, are tiring.

dodger says:

I disagree with the author in that I believe long in the future history will prove Springsteen to be the greatest musical talent of the 20th and maybe even the 21st century (if he continues his prolific work). He is our Mozart and Beethoven all rolled into one and it will take a couple of hundred years to know for sure, but I really think it will be Springsteen that history remembers most fondly and reverentially. Bruce is still turning out great songs, amazing albums and unbelievable live shows when all the other super artists have long since peaked and mostly faded away – Dylan, McCartney, Jagger/Richards, The Who, Stevie Wonder etc. etc. etc. I loved Dylan in the day and still do but when was the last time he wrote a really important song or album with social significance and commentary like The Rising or Magic? George Bush was President for eight years and nothing from Bob – how could he not comment on what was going on? Bruce just keeps turning them out and, in my opinion, he has passed Dylan “by leaps and bounds and skyscrapers and rocket blasts.” p.s. I wish Lennon was still here with us because we will never know if he could have kept it up like Bruce has. That is my opinion and I welcome any and all comment.

ken beckman says:

I’m shocked that the author would try to relate Judaism in any way to Reed’s poor behavior. He and Dylan happen to be Jewish, but to connect that in any way to their behavior is absolutely antisemitic and unacceptable. Shame on you. If the author happens to be Jewish (I don’t know as I have never heard of her) than this just sounds like self hating. What could have been a nice article has become shameful..

Frank says:

If Lou is a bitchass it’s because he’s a New Yorker, not because he’s a Jew.

Then again, you could say New Yorkers make better artists because they’re bitchasses, and nobody would say a thing.

I’ve said that least 2373996 times. The problem this like that is they are just too compilcated for the average bird, if you know what I mean

It’s a shame you don’t have a donate button! I’d certainly donate to this fantastic blog! I guess for now i’ll settle for bookmarking and adding your RSS feed to my Google account. I look forward to fresh updates and will share this blog with my Facebook group. Chat soon!

We got to hear this story. We got to hear a life happen in all its imperfection and misery and elation and contentedness, and realize again that the great thing about life is not that the future is predictable—it’s that you have absolutely no idea what will happen. Happy people consider that good news.

Hey! I just came upon this blog today while researching for some different fitness terms in bing. Stuck around a little to check things out and read a few of your articles enjoyable stuff. I’m going to be sure to come back later on some time and catch up. Go USA!! World Cup 2010!

My kids met Lou Reed two weeks ago in a coffee shop. He engaged my 8 year old daughter in a warm conversation about the book she was reading. He was really nice.

The “tug” (not problem) with Jewish artists is they instantly, and better than anyone else, see the commercial potential which always dilutes a creative vision. One’s creative vision is usually not always instantly commercial. But you’re young and hungry so what do you go for? Jewish artists pretty much know “what” and “how” to meet market demand.

That’s brilliant but also can lead to the Gene Simmons syndrome where, at the end of his life he sits enthroned in LA surrounded by bobble-head dolls of himself and other tacky stuff — completely cut-off from the sources of and from his own creative vision and voice.

For an artist “Take the money.” can kill the (other) genius. Usually, creative genius is a “still, small voice” — gettin’ the cash, now, is always the loudest voice in the room.

Miriam says:

The author writes in passing “Leonard Cohen—does he seem nice to you?” Well, yes actually. He is a man who seems quite aware of his talent and value, but has anyone ever heard that he is particularly rude? A friend of mine had him over to his house sometime in the 80s, and he didn’t go smashing glasses or picking at his food with contempt. That was one encounter, and only second-hand, but L.C. doesn’t strike me as an asshole.

WednesdayAddams says:

Critics are entitled to their opinion of Wurtzel’s piece, but even the laziest, most cursory reading of it does not point to the author misidentifying Springsteen as Jewish. What happened to basic reading comprehension?

Buzz Gunderson says:

This old piece offers too little of substance in too many words about this excellent poetic songwriter who just died. Abundant inaccuracies in the facts and dates of Reed’s life reflect a lack of true interest in Ms. Wurtzel’s subject, this is really all about her. Though ethnic identity seems to be at the core of the authors thoughts, that was not what Lou Reed was about. Indeed, the whole pretext of this article is rubbish. It should be obvious to all that creative Jewish men cannot be categorized in this manner to any meaningful end. It is well known that Lou could be a nasty cur but what continues to be interesting about him is that he was so obviously an extremely sensitive individual with a gruff exterior who had much to say about the human condition in his times. The issue of celebrity in our culture and what if any obligation a “star” has to their fans continues to be played out on a daily basis. Lou was and is not alone in chafing at the attention he sought.
Like many other artists, Reed at his best spoke to people of many different backgrounds about universally experienced truths of the human condition. Taken all for all, I shall not see his like again.

Mark S. Devenow Esq. says:

Reading this mindless, LITERALLY MINDLESS, self-indulgent stream of consciousness, one can fully understand how this dizzy broad managed to fail bar examinations on multiple occasions. Beyond this, there appears to be absolutely no purpose to the exercise.

joe user says:

What on earth? The only actual anecdote here is that thrityfive years ago you behaved like an asshole to him on the subway once and he ignored you. And you go on for twenty paragraphs? Get over it.

He Walks on the Wild Side
A Requiem for Mr. Reed

His guitar chords rip the night
for a final time

Heat rises from sidewalk
a concrete riptide

This is no man
this is legend
piercing hearts
with nocturnal delight
bursting into his next life

His guitar screams
His word screams
Forever on the Wild Side

© 2013 LGjaffe

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No Mr. Nice Guy: Lou Reed

On the late Lou Reed’s 69th birthday, Elizabeth Wurtzel explained that contrary to the assertions of Philip Roth and others, the problem with Jewish male artists is not that they are too nice

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