Lou Reed’s not so perfect day

Pub date June 2, 2013
SectionPolitics Blog

Last Friday, it was revealed that Velvet Underground co-founder and occasionally proclaimed “godfather of punk rock” Lou Reed had undergone a life-saving liver transplant in Cleveland. Reed, 71 was “dying” according to his third wife, Laurie Anderson. She says that Reed is already improving and up and around doing tai chi, but that “he will never be completely better”.

Given that Reed is in his eighth decade on the planet and is notorious for drug-related anthems like “Heroin”, “Waiting For The Man” and “White Light/White Heat”, there is a pushback of a sort. Why would this elderly reprobate, surely the cause of his own misery get leap-frogged ahead of a younger person. Someone more deserving.

This kind of ridiculous moral posturing and shrill self-righteousness is at the heart of every argument when anyone with a self-inflicted ailment seeks treatment. First of all, Reed’s liver failed from complications from Hepatitis C. Like many intravenous drug users, he had no idea this existed when he was using–no excuse you say? He should have known better–how? And that if he’d only lived an ascetic existence, this never would have happened? Reed has been intermittedly sober for almost 30 years as documented on his album “The Blue Mask”. Secondly, that he’s 71, why “waste” an organ on him? 

Because he’s ill. Just as you’d wish a measure like that would be taken if you had made it to 71 and had loved ones. The idea that a chronic smoker shouldn’t get a lung, or an obese person a lapband because they’d brought this onto themselves and were now too old to benefit–that’s a rather strangely “anti-life” attitude.

Yeah, it isn’t fair that Reed or David Crosby, Mickey Mantle or Phil Lesh got priorities for a new liver having run the old one down to nothing (which is quite a feat, as Cedars’ liver expert John Vierling told me years ago, the liver is the body’s strongest organ). Especially when there are younger people whose livers didn’t fail from abuse but from organic causes. But the afore-mentioned have something in common–they’re wealthy. Perhaps if the financial issue weren’t part of it and it was a “liver lottery” and paid for by Medicare, this would be “fairer”. But as long as moral scoldery and the adoration of the “free market” seem to be on the same (right) side of the political coin, fat chance.

I’m happy for Lou and Laurie. Lou’s songs are among my favorites and anyone that nay-says his skill because it’s simple music sung by someone with a limited vocal range can pound sand. Long may he run.