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FM to Web: Lou Reed, Nick Cave, Jeff Buckley & Captain Beefheart by Gary Lucas

An exclusive article by Gary Lucas for the column looks like a small dream come true. Especially when it is from the heart. No need to say more.
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An exclusive article by Gary Lucas for the column looks like a small dream come true. Especially when it is from the heart. No need to say more.

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Some of my favorite stories of commingling with my rock star buddies, written from La Habana Cuba where I am recording a new album with the cream of young Cuban musicians.

Lou Reed - In June 1992  I finally met the great Lou Reed at John Zorn's First Festival of Radical Jewish Culture in Munich, where I was performing with the silent film "The Golem" (1920, d. Paul Wegener--I have played my original score with this film all over the world btw http://garylucas.com/www/golem...

It was Lou's first time "coming out" as a Jewish person to play at this festival, which also included appearances by Zorn, Ribot and John Lurie (who knew he was Jewish? I always thought he was Italian--but no!) Me, I have always been proud of my Jewish heritage (like Natalie Portman said when she dished John Galliano last week)...anyway I was riding high as I just been being quoted in Musician Magazine about what was my favorite guitar solo, and I chose The Velvet Underground's "I Heard Her Call My Name" from their second album "White Light/White Heat" where Lou tears the roof off the sucker with the most demented psychotic atonal hysterical freak-out solo--I adore it--a total inspiration to me in my teenage angst-ridden years--and Lou came up to me when we were getting our luggage in Munchen airport and very sincerely and respectfully shook my hand and told me how much he appreciated my comments--no problemo, Lou!

Later he came to see me play and told me afterwards "I could listen to you play for hours, Gary". He invited me over to his house after we got back and we spent a very intense period swapping guitars and playing, we socialized too and we went out to see Ann Peebles perform "I Can't Stand the Rain" and there's a photo of me Lou and Laurie Anderson sitting at SOB's that night in "The Love Book"--Lou's a techno-freak and he handed me a new axe with some sort off fancy  tremolo bar which I proceeded to literally rip right off the face of the guitar, he kind of looked at me aghast in shock at this and then said admiringly: "You're an animal, Gary!!" Pretty good coming from the "Rock 'n Roll Animal" himself...last year I sat next to Lou at Carnegie Hall where we were enjoying David Byrne's Imelda Marco "opera", and he leaned over and whispered: "That guitar you played on Jeff Buckley's "Grace" album was lovely, really lovely Gary". I sent him my version of "European Son" from my "Street of Lost Brothers" album which he pronounced "beyond cool"! I love Lou Reed...

Jeff Buckley - I didn’t know of Jeff until I got a call from the producer Hal Willner in spring '1991 inviting me to play at a tribute concert he was mounting at St. Anne's Church in Brooklyn for the singer Tim Buckley, who I loved ever since I was a boy growing up in the golden age of the 60's. "And I think I'd like you to collaborate with his song Jeff" Hal said. "I didn't know Tim had a son" I said, and he told me this young man had come forward out of the blue contacting him and that he wanted to pay respects to his late father.

So anyway I went down to the church rehearse the Tim Buckley song "The River" with the first vocalist I had in my band  Gods and Monsters, a female singer who shall remain nameless. When we finished and I was packing up , this young kid walked up to me looking totally electric and charismatic, vibing me heavily, popping and rolling his eyes looking like he was about to jump out of his skin. He was the spitting image of his late father so right away I was thinking "Aha, this must be Jeff Buckley".  "You're Gary Lucas" he exclaimed. "I love your guitar playing. I loved you with Captain Beefheart and I loved what you were playing just now in there" (apparently he had snuck in to our rehearsal to catch our action). I read all about you in Guitar Player Magazine (I had recently been profiled). And I want to play with you!!"

Impressed by his youthful energy, enthusiasm and intensity--such burning smouldering eyes, eyes of fire--I invited to come round my apartment the next to rehearse his father's song "The King's Chain" from Tim's "Sefronia" album, I set up a raga loop with my delay pedal, sped it up and then ran it backwards, and started playing the chords to this song on my 1946 Gibson J-45 acoustic (my favorite all-time guitar). Jeff opened his mouth to sing, and--BAM!! My jaw dropped when I heard his voice....after finishing up the song, he looked at me with these big puppy-dog eyes and asked very innocently, "Was I any good?? »JEFF" I answered, "you're a fucking STAR!!" Immediately I could see possibilities here, and invited him out to lunch at the White Horse Tavern, a landmark 19th century establishment where the Welsh poet Dylan Thomas drank himself to death..."my white horses flow..." ...and began hatching plans to bring him into my band as a fulltime vocalist . He was well into it. He loved the concept and the name Gods and Monsters. We agreed we both loved The Smiths, The Doors, and Led Zeppelin--and vowed to put a group together that would be a dramatic and radical update of that classic rock sound. "Grace" and "Mojo Pin" are good examples of this. But that's another story...

Nick Cave - I first met old Nick during a radio broadcast on NPR (National Public Radio) in spring '91 up on the premises of the old NYC municipal building in downtown Manhattan, we were both guests on John Hockenberry's talk show (a  former Viet vet now confined to a wheel chair who became an ace left-wing broadcaster) , he was traveling with his then wife the Brazilian bombshell Viviane Carneiro and he was super respectful of my work (Nick is a big Beefheart fan) --he invited me to perform with him while he read selections from his then newly published book "And the Ass Saw the Angel".

It was so successful he asked me to travel to Rotterdam with him to perform at the "One Night in Vienna" festival in August alongside Sonic Youth, the Pixies etc. You can hear the results on my album "Improve the Shining Hour", which is a collection of 20 years of rarities and choice collaborations with myself and folks like Nick, Beefheart, DJ Spooky etc. We really hit a groove there, and the audience loved us: "I've brought an incredible guitarist here with me" he introduced me to the throng, and I created a very bluesy guitar accompaniment on my 1946 National steel guitar (which I first used with Beefheart) to his reading of his southern Gothic shock story, very William Faukner/Flannery O'Connor-esque.  His voice and my guitar are quite a good match if I must say so. I played him again in London at his Melt Down Festival and also in NYC doing a performance of songs from the Harry Smith Archive of American Folk Music songbook. I saw him while on tour in Melbourne again recently, and I hope our paths cross again soon.

Don Van Vliet - I was on tour here in Havana last December playing the Havana Film Festival with my original score accompanying Ze do Caixao/Coffin Joe/Jose Mojica Marins' 1967 Brazilian cult shokcer "Esta Noite Encarnerei no Teu Cadaver" (This Night I Will Possess Your Corpse) and also the Havana Jazz Festival--I love Cuba--and on the way back to the hotel from the jazz club down the road here after playing the Jazz Festival
out of nowhere some lines of Beefheart's popped into my head: "The stars are matter/we're matter/but it doesn't matter"--it's a poem on the back of his 1972 album "The Spotlight Kid", and I used it in my Yale University Yearbook blurb next to my photo in place of a quote from Milton or Walt Whitman...and out of nowhere it popped into my head, and I thought to myself "What exactly did he mean by that?" And I pondered this awhile as we drove through the dark Cuban night, and concluded that Don meant that in life as in death we are all part of the great cosmic fabric of the Universe, eternal, endless...and that gave me some comfort in the lonely darkness, that I was not alone. And the very next day I flew from Havana to Nassau on the way back to NYC through Miami...and when I got to Nassau there was a text message waiting that said that Don had just died, I was in shock, and then I shivered and remembered this strange vision of the night before. As if Don had been speaking to me mentally on the eve of his passing

Gary Lucas
Hotel Nacional de Cuba

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