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Hey, Sugar: A Story of Virgo-Pisces

Dear Friend and Reader:

Edges of cities are interesting places. When I discovered Lou Reed, I was driving regularly from New Jersey to Staten Island to visit my cousin Maura. To get there I cruised in my 1972 Dodge Dart along the ancient, strange and beautiful Route 22 and over the Outerbridge Crossing to Staten Island, on the far outskirts of New York City.

Planet Waves
Lou Reed, photographed by his friend Mick Rock.
I often did the drive in the dark hours into dawn, along empty highways scattered with road construction projects lit up like movie sets. That landscape shaped my consciousness with its dark tones and horizons defined by refineries and enormous gantries set along the waterfront, elevated highways and the Manhattan skyline looming in the distance.

I was working as a staff editor for a business newsletter publishing company, in charge of titles like Kane's Beverage Week and Leisure Beverage Insider, for which subscribers paid hundreds of dollars a year.

I was being flown all over the country to cover trade shows, conferences and conventions. Knowing what I had accomplished by age 25, I was aware that I had a potential career track to be a top editor at The Wall Street Journal or The New York Times. And I was pretty sure I wanted no part of that, or rather that I had already seen enough of it.

I was still in some shock after graduating from SUNY Buffalo, where art and community were everywhere, and where I had my hand in countless activist publishing projects. The spirit of change and collective excitement that pervaded my life in Buffalo was nowhere to be found in New Jersey or New York City, not that I could sniff out, anyway. The energy was depressing, nothing like I remembered the city when I was in high school.

Sometime in late 1988, I don't remember how, I met my cousin Maura, who became an old friend immediately. In those months I wove in many visits to see her, bringing her my poems, which she would have me read to her. We stayed up deep into the winter nights exploring and considering language and ideas and loving one another like the kindred spirits that we were.

Planet Waves
The Velvet Underground.
One day she handed me two tickets to see a guy named Lou Reed. The tickets were for the opening night of his tour for the album New York. Except for the one song everyone has heard, I didn't know who he was, so I bought the CD and started listening.

Like phosphorous burning in a black desert, the songs on this album illuminated the political and spiritual landscape of the United States. Lou showed us how dark it all was, a society of people shitting in rivers, dumping battery acid into streams and clubbing one another in pointless race riots. He did not hesitate to point out all the hypocrisy and taken for granted stupidity that pervade American society, and that most people just shrug off.

A thousand times I've listened to him say, I'll meet you in Tompkins Square, the park where a riot had ensued a year earlier after the city tried to clear the park of homeless people.

New York was like the most exciting news report I ever heard. Lou called out world leaders and the pope for their racist viewpoints, listed the names of those who had been hurt in the civil war that was ensuing and called on anyone with a shred of ethics to stand up and do something. He talked about the Statue of Bigotry, the NRA, the asshole driving on heroin who crippled a dancer and countless news figures from that era from Bernard Goetz to Mike Tyson to the Guardian Angels.

The album sums up an an era of history; it was also one of the best post-punk albums ever recorded -- composed and performed by someone I had no idea was regarded as an inventor of punk rock 25 years earlier.

Then there was the concert, opening night for the New York tour, a Friday night, performed in a Broadway theater. That means a classy venue with maybe 3,000 people in the house, no bad seats and fantastic acoustics. We were in the last row, which was like having the best press seats for an arena concert. The last row also meant there was a wide, carpeted exit aisle behind us, and nobody seemed to care if we danced back there, with a full view of the stage.

Planet Waves
Cover of the 1989 "New York" album, designed by Spencer Drate and Judith Salavetz with photos by Waring Abbott. It was one of the first album covers done using Photoshop -- notice the many different images of Lou Reed morphed into one.
The stage had a designed set, with painted-on glass panels backlit in fluorescent colors. At first glance I looked at it and thought: Andy Warhol's ghost is in the room, though I had no idea that Warhol had produced the Velvet Underground and been one of Lou's closest friends.

The show was in two sets. In the first, Reed and his band blazed out the full New York album in order, true to the studio recording but turned up to 11 for the live environment. They went from song to song without a pause as the whole house gathered the momentum of the performance. By the time I saw the show I was already in love with every song on the album and it was amazing to see them done live for the first time, right in New York City.

Then they took a break, came back out, and did a generous, nearly endless greatest hits collection of the Velvet Underground and Lou's solo work. This was not an oldies show. Every song was performed with an edge of joyous aggression. There is nothing I can compare this show to.

Radical, professional, raw, refined, hot and cool, idealistic and baldly realistic, new and old all at once. Something, some fire, entered my mind that night and has not left since, or perhaps I felt like I had permission to let myself care about what I really did care about.

Soon after, I made a series of decisions, which at the time I did not directly connect to my experience of the music but for which, looking back, New York was the point of demarcation. One day I came to work and saw television footage of the City University uprising of spring 1989 -- students getting arrested in tuition hike protests. It was clear the students had experienced no civil disobedience training. That was the actual tipping point. I knew I had to be part of that.

In a matter of weeks, I had sketched out a business plan for a newsletter covering politics and student issues for campus organizations and the student press (New York State Student Leader), applied to grad school, quit my job and came upstate to be an activist and a poet. I was accepted as a fully sponsored grad student at SUNY New Paltz, where I taught English for a year and wrote about many of the kinds of issues that Lou Reed had described in New York, throwing myself in with total commitment.

Planet Waves
Lou Reed and Laurie Anderson. Photo by Guido Harari.
A year later I was covering the 1990 City University protests from the inside, living for three weeks in a seized building at City College of New York.

That was the power of Lou's music: it woke me up and helped radicalize me. I was suddenly able to focus and choose what to do with my talent and drive. I have never worked a 'straight' job since. I went into business and from that point forward, set my own agenda as a journalist. I have never once contained myself based on what some publisher or advertiser might think of the views I took.

I usually own the publications where my work appears, which are always advertising-free, where to this day I strive to perfect the let 'em have it, In-Your-Face, tell-it-like-it-is, put-their-names-in print-style of journalism that Lou Reed made look both easy and worth doing.

I never met Lou Reed, but this week I discovered how many people I know knew him personally. Over the years I figured out that Lou was a sexual revolutionary. The song Walk on the Wild Side, Lou's one true pop hit, was a daring statement for its time, 1972.

Right around then, Betty Dodson was one of the few women busting the gender queer barrier, and from her stories I know how dangerous this was. At that time, even lesbians were politically sidelined within the official gay movement. "Wild Side" was a bold, beautiful tribute to transvestites, male prostitutes and numerous characters floating around the East Village at the time.

One message of the song: this all may seem a little seedy but these people sure are interesting, they're real and I think you'll like them. C'mon sugar, check out the scene.

I wanted to know more about the sexual revolutionary in Lou Reed, so I contacted Billy Name, who was the official photographer and archivist at Warhol's Factory, where the Velvet Underground was the house band. Billy was friends with Reed continuously from those days till he died this past weekend.

Billy was one of my first astrology clients, and he's always been generous sharing his eyewitness accounts of history.

Planet Waves
Lou Reed and Nico, one of the vocalists for the Velvet Underground, in 1965. Photographer unknown.
"It's an overachievement of humanity to make the masculine and the feminine fuse as one and put that forth as your gender," Billy told me. "He did it not through sexuality but through including all phases of homosexual and heterosexual."

He said that Lou had a way of making contact with the inner truth in everyone. "He would scratch you and bring out your underground. He never left you alone. He wasn't trying to scratch you. He was a gem."

And he added his opinion that Lou would have been a musical prodigy no matter what era he was born into. Rock and roll happened to be an exceptionally good fit.

Spencer Drate is a typographer who co-designed several album covers for Lou Reed's solo work, including New York and Magic and Loss, and special issues of Velvet Underground albums. He described Lou as a moody, quirky person who was always gracious to him. He said that in his experience, Reed was emotionally transparent and could not hide his feelings. "If he was at a party and he didn't want to be there, you could see it on his face."

Drate said the New York album was the first that Lou did post-heroin addiction. The project revived Lou's drive to live and make music and that his relationship with Seymour Stein, the co-founder of Sire Records, afforded him some faith in the record industry.

Drate said that Reed never asked him to change anything on an album cover and told him directly that he loved his work. Hearing that would mean a lot to anyone, since just about everyone held Reed as a genius.

That theme came up again when I talked to Gary Lucas, the guitarist I featured on a recent Planet Waves FM. Lucas said, "Lou was a friend -- I met him in Munich in 1992 at Zorn's Festival of Radical Jewish Culture and he invited me to hang out and play with him. He told me then: 'I could listen to you play for hours, Gary'."

Can you imagine Lou Reed telling you that about your guitar playing? (He was onto something about Gary Lucas, by the way.)

Planet Waves
Lou Reed performs live on stage at Concertgebouw, Amsterdam, Holland, on May 19, 1974. Photo: Gijsbert Hanekroot/Redferns.
My favorite story of the week, however, came from my old friend Rob Norris, whom I knew for about 20 years before recently discovering he's an actual rock star -- the bassist for The Bongos.

Rob sent me the PDF of a music 'zine that looks like it was from around 1980 or so, typed on an IBM Selectric. In it, he tells the story of a concert in his high school auditorium in 1965, filled with teenage students and their parents. Al Aronowitz, the manager of the Velvet Underground, lived in Rob's town in New Jersey.

Rob's best friend was Al's babysitter, who brought back an ongoing stream of stories about who would visit his house, from Carole King to John Lennon. Al also managed a band called The Myddle Class which for some reason was playing the Summit High School auditorium. Usually for this kind of small, local gig, Al commissioned local opening acts.

However, The Velvet Underground had recently been fired by its club in New York City for not being danceable enough. So for $80 Al put them on the bill to be the opening act for The Myddle Class. The result was one of those true moments of rock history.

"Nothing could have prepared the kids and parents assembled in the auditorium for what they were about to experience that night," he wrote. When the curtain came up, "There stood the Velvet Underground, dressed mostly in black; two of them were wearing sunglasses. One of the guys had VERY long hair and was wearing silver jewelry. He was holding a large violin. The drummer was standing at a small, oddly arranged drum kit. Was it a boy or a girl?

"Before we could take it all in, everyone was hit by a screeching surge of sound, with a pounding beat louder than anything we had ever heard. About a minute into the second song, which the singer had introduced as 'Heroin', the music began to get even more intense. It swelled and accelerated like a giant tidal wave which was threatening to engulf us all. At this point, most of the audience retreated in horror for the safety of their homes, thoroughly convinced of the dangers of rock & roll music. My friends and I moved a little closer to the stage, knowing that something special was happening."

The next time Norris encountered Lou Reed was three years later, in Boston. Norris was in the meditation group of the eminent astrologer Isabel Hickey, and in that group was a guy named Mitch, who was also the sound man at a club called the Tea Party. Mitch was a friend of Reed's, and one night at a Velvet's concert, offered to introduce Norris to him between sets. His friend hinted that "Lou would probably be very different from what I was probably expecting him to be."

Planet Waves
Photo by Todd Plitt / USA Today.
He continued: "A bit later we went into a big back room where Lou Reed sat, all by himself, eating what looked to be sawdust out of a jar. Mitch introduced us and slipped quietly out of the room. I was speechless. After sizing me up for a few seconds, Lou said, 'What are you, on amphetamines or something?'

"I mumbled that I was not and asked what it was that he was eating. I was informed that it was a high-protein wheat germ mixture that he always ate before playing. This was followed by a brief lecture on the evils of drug abuse. My mind was reeling! I blurted out something about how much I loved their music and that I had seen them at Summit High three years earlier.

"Lou broke into a huge grin and took me into the other room to meet the band. Everyone was amazed that I had seen the show…It was wonderful to meet them like that. I was impressed by how intelligent, articulate and polite they were. It changed my whole impression of rock and roll stars. They were real people like you and me, after all!"

Norris said he went to many Velvet concerts and afterwards would always hang out backstage watching Reed hold court and answer his fans' questions about anything and everything. The end result was that he knew he wanted a career as a professional rocker, and he created just that for himself.

Norris pointed out in his article that Lou Reed had in his chart the Pisces Sun and Virgo Moon. He was born just before a lunar eclipse, so it's an especially strong Full Moon, giving him a chart polarized between the signs Virgo and Pisces -- the technician and the artist; the control freak and the dreamer.

"Lou was a member of the Church of Light in NYC, which, like Isabel Hickey's group in Boston, studied, among other things, the teachings of Alice Bailey," Norris wrote.

Planet Waves
"Just a couple of weeks ago Lou did a photo session intended to become a print ad for his friend Henri Seydoux's French audio headphones company Parrot. The renowned photographer Jean Baptiste Mondino took the shots, and this was the very last shot he took. Always a tower of strength." -- Tom Sarig on
"Lou explained how a lot of his songs embodied the Virgo-Pisces opposition and could be taken two ways. 'White Light/White Heat' was an obvious drug song showing some of the Piscean suffering and self-indulgent 'road of excess' side of things. But it was also about enlightenment, expressing the Christian purity, self-control, 'palace of wisdom' aspects of Virgo. Enlightenment was expressed in the feminine on songs like 'Here She Comes Now' and 'I Heard Her Call My Name'."

In other words, Lou Reed was aware of his astrology and used it as a spiritual and artistic tool. He understood that the Virgo-Pisces opposition that defines his chart is the embodiment of opposites, the great contradiction across which he had to stretch himself.

Hence we get Lou Reed the heroin addict in harmony with Lou Reed the avatar. We get the raw, grimy punk rocker playing the bass and guitar out of the same amp and we get the impeccable technician who played a tight, confident show almost every time. We get Lou Reed the health freak and Lou Reed the heroin addict.

We get Lou Reed the gracious and Lou Reed who would lie to the press regularly, not out of dislike but in my opinion as a journalist because their questions were so stupid.

We get Lou Reed of The Velvet Undergrond that my friend Mike Ackerman described as "an epic commercial failure at the time but a monumental artistic success. It's been said by many that the first Velvet Underground album launched thousands of bands."

By putting his contradictions right out where everyone could see them, Lou Reed presented himself as human and was received by everyone as human. Because he was speaking to us across level space, his voice cut through the bullshit, proof that it could be done. He was a friend to humanity, demonstrating how to do it.

I can think of no other celebrity I've never even met who felt more like a personal friend. And I miss him like one. Lou Reed was a reassuring presence on the planet, a reminder of what an artist can be and what art can do.


For Lou Reed

To our neighbors:

What a beautiful fall! Everything shimmering and golden and all that incredible soft light. Water surrounding us.

Lou and I have spent a lot of time here in the past few years, and even though we’re city people this is our spiritual home.

Last week I promised Lou to get him out of the hospital and come home to Springs. And we made it!

Lou was a tai chi master and spent his last days here being happy and dazzled by the beauty and power and softness of nature. He died on Sunday morning looking at the trees and doing the famous 21 form of tai chi with just his musician hands moving through the air.

Lou was a prince and a fighter and I know his songs of the pain and beauty in the world will fill many people with the incredible joy he felt for life. Long live the beauty that comes down and through and onto all of us.

-- Laurie Anderson
his loving wife and eternal friend

Published in the East Hampton Star on Oct. 31, 2013.

You are invited to read additional tributes to Lou Reed at this link.

Planet Waves
The Midpoint of the Uranus-Pluto Square

Set amidst much other astrology, Friday, Nov. 1 is the fourth of seven exact square aspects between Uranus and Pluto. This a rare series of outer planet aspects that spans from June 2012 through March 2015, and have effects that spread at least three or more years on either side.

Planet Waves
Photo by Eric Francis.
After watching this approach for many years (I've been reporting on this since at least 2009), we are now at the center point of that series of aspects; which is another way of saying at a turning point in the 2012-era. In many ways, the Uranus-Pluto square is a last, best hope -- astrologically, anyway -- that enough people will wake up so that we can turn around the problems that are threatening humanity and the planet itself.

Clustered around this meeting of two distant planets (Uranus, with an 84-year orbit, and Pluto, with a 250-year orbit) are Mercury retrograde in Scorpio, Mars opposite Chiron and a powerful eclipse of the Sun conjunct Saturn. These aspects describe the need for introspection, polarized clarity of vision, the need for action and a sober statement about a limit on how short a human lifetime is: an eclipse in Scorpio conjunct Saturn, the old Grim Reaper himself.

The astrology describes both personal material and collective material and as usual these days, the many places they intersect. Looked at one way, the problems of the world are nothing more than our collective problems projected into a gigantic relational system. The dysfunction of government reflects the neuroses and crises of our families.

The sensation of Uranus-Pluto and the 2012 era is similar to a lot of potent astrology going off -- everything all at once. It's difficult to know what to prioritize, or how exactly to handle it, since most of our problems are unprecedented. To give one example, there is a major crisis brewing at Fukushima Reactor 4, where 1,500 fuel rod assemblies are dangling in a building that cannot withstand any further seismic activity. Nobody has ever tried to remove that much nuclear fuel from a damaged, contaminated structure before.

The world is being overrun with genetically modified foods, which are being revealed as increasingly dangerous, but which also seem unstoppable. Is that not the metaphor for our lives at this time in history -- what affects us profoundly that we cannot control and can barely influence?

Planet Waves
Full chart for the fourth exact contact of the Uranus-Pluto square this Friday. Notice all the planets with a bold "09″next to them (and with numbers close to that). Those are all planets in aspect to each other this week, and in aspect to the Uranus-Pluto square.
The Uranus-Pluto square set amongst so many other cosmic events is saying to focus on what matters. Take the time to consciously prioritize. Remember that knowledge and thought are useless if they don't lead to decisions and to action. As you have no doubt noticed, it's not easy to focus, and we live with the sensation of time running out of control.

That's nothing more than an invitation to use our minds, remember our priorities, filter out what we know does not matter, and most of all, to honor the passage of time. It is true that all kinds of quantum phenomena are available, perhaps to advanced yogis, 33rd degree Masons and miracle workers; we, however, live in the world of time, and we need to honor time boundaries and focus on efficiency of thought and action.

There are often progressive gains and progress made when Uranus and Pluto get together, but there are two things to consider. One is that is humans, not the planets, who make things happen. The other is that these gains are often fragile. They are subject to disruption, subversion and outright attack. They must be respected and built on, or they are for naught.

The astrology that's happening now will never come this way again. Other things will -- but what we have now is a special opportunity for our truly unusual, critical, beautiful moment. Time is fleeting, and if we don't focus on healing, madness does indeed take its toll.

Planet Waves

Lou Reed, Scorpio Eclipse and Talking About Sex

Link to Program

With a total eclipse coming up in Scorpio, I cover the current astrology in its many dark shades, as well as the life and death of Lou Reed, and I continue last week's conversation about how to emerge from sexual denial and into sexual awareness. For additional information and resources, please see the full post.

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