I heard about Lou Reed’s death via a posting on Facebook. But the first article I read about it was in the English paper, the Daily Mail. The paper was one of the free newspapers available on a flight I took from Glasgow to London the day after the news of Reed’s death was announced. Their obituary, if one can even call it that, was nasty, mean-spirited and kind of pathetic. The writer says, “He did more than any other rock star to give drugs a false and dangerous glamour,” and that, “Lou Reed’s own excesses have finally caught up with him.”
It all sounds like the typical jealousy of one who wishes he’d lived the kind of “debauched life” he criticizes when he sees others doing it. If the life of purity you lead is its own reward, then I don’t see the need to gloat over the death of someone who didn’t share your values.
The writer also offers this little tale, “Reed’s music reached a much wider audience in 1997 when the BBC chose his sweet melody Perfect Day as a promotion to publicise the Corporation’s music coverage. It featured a host of big-name stars (including David Bowie, Bono, Boyzone and the BBC Symphony Orchestra). The record was released as a charity single in aid of Children In Need and was No 1 for three weeks. But few licence fee-payers — or, clearly, BBC executives — realised the song and its seemingly romantic chorus, ‘It’s such a perfect day, I’m glad I spent it with you’, was a paean to heroin.”
Here are the lyrics to Perfect Day:
Just a perfect day / Drink sangria in the park / And then later, when it gets dark / We go home
Just a perfect day / Feed animals in the zoo / Then later a movie, too / And then home
Oh, it’s such a perfect day / I’m glad I spent it with you / Oh, such a perfect day / You just keep me hanging on / You just keep me hanging on
Just a perfect day / Problems all left alone / Weekenders on our own / It’s such fun
Just a perfect day / You made me forget myself / I thought I was someone else / Someone good
Oh, it’s such a perfect day / I’m glad I spent it with you / Oh, such a perfect day / You just keep me hanging on /You just keep me hanging on
You’re going to reap just what you sow
Now if that’s a “paean to heroin,” I certainly don’t see it. I don’t imagine heroin feeding animals in the zoo, taking in a movie, or drinking sangria in the park. The song was used in the 1996 film Trainspotting, which is about heroin addicts. But that doesn’t indicate the song is about heroin. Although now it’s in the Daily Mail so it has to be true, I suppose.
But where did Lou Reed go when he died? The factual answer is that nobody knows. Or perhaps Lou Reed knows. But he’s got no way to tell us because the apparatus he previously used to tell people about things has been damaged and no longer operates.
I got a weird question via Facebook the other day. It went, “I have been sitting with this, and reflecting on different comments – like Huang Po’s ‘all sentient beings are expressions of the one mind’ and examples like waves versus the ocean. I’m curious where you fall on the divide: is the ocean conscious? How else call it ‘mind’ or ‘awareness’? I have embraced ‘no self’ as referring to non-essence, but ‘no self’ as non-separateness seems to undermine any possibility of awareness. Why would we want to progress toward the Buddha-mind (or return to the ocean, or whatever) if it is indistinguishable from entering a coma?”
To this I answered, “Your awareness now is the awareness of the universe. There is no difference. But ‘awareness’ is also just an idea. There is awareness in a coma and there is awareness in a rock or in so-called ’empty space.’ ‘No self’ means that ‘self’ is a poor image for what you really are, and not that what we mistakenly refer to as ‘self’ does not exist.”
Unfortunately the conversation just went downhill from there. But perhaps I can use it as a way to express where I think Lou Reed went.
We believe that the mind we experience is our mind, our awareness. We believe it is unique to us. This seems to be demonstrably true. No one else can enter our mind, no matter how hard they try. They can enter our bodies through sex or through violence. But they can’t enter our minds. Or can they?
I don’t want to get into a discussion about psychic phenomena here. But most of us have experienced moments of deep connection with others. Since, even then, we usually can’t read other people’s thoughts or hear their inner monologue, we tend to imagine that these moments occur only within our minds. They may occur simultaneously with the same sort of thing happening in the mind of another. But even then, we view them as separate instances occurring in two different minds at the same time.
But if you can establish great silence within yourself, you can start to see that this isn’t quite the case. The lines between yourself and the outside world begin to blur and lose the distinction you believed they had. This is not easy to do. But it just takes a certain degree of patience and discipline. It’s something you did naturally when you were a child but that you were taught not to do as you grew up. It’s something you continue to do anyway, but you’ve developed the ability to ignore it.
Lou Reed was a manifestation of the universe. What made him Lou Reed wasn’t confined to the space of his body. It was a function of everyone and everything he ever encountered or that ever encountered him.
Lou Reed is dead and we can’t make him come back. I’m sad about that. I feel like I took a long time to finally discover him. Friends of mine who knew I loved 60s psychedelic rock told me about the Velvet Underground for years. But they’d always play me songs like Heroin or Waiting for the Man as examples. To me it just sounded like bad Bob Dylan imitations with pretentious lyrics about drugs. It wasn’t until I heard Venus in Furs that I was sold. Now that is psychedelic! I was a fan from that moment on. I’m sorry he’s gone now.
But he isn’t really gone. Nothing is ever really gone. He’s just changed his shape so radically we can’t find him anymore.
The awareness he thought was his own awareness wasn’t really his. The mind he thought was his own mind, wasn’t really his own. The awareness he felt he had of the universe was just as much the universe’s awareness of him. It was our awareness of him.
We block that aspect off from ourselves so thoroughly that we question its very existence. But it is the foundation from which we spring forth.
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You can still sign up for our retreat at Mount Baldy this weekend (Nov. 8-10)
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