Although Brooklyn and Colorado Springs aren't exactly sister cities, I recently stumbled upon a new and little-known connection between them.
Two weeks ago, I was at the Brooklyn Academy of Music for a sold-out Questlove-curated performance honoring analog-era electronic music — more on that later — and bragging to Facebook friends about scoring a day-of-show ticket. I received a response from University of Colorado at Colorado Springs music program director Glen Whitehead, who's also part of the Peak FreQuency experimental music collective.
While I found his response insufficiently jealous, Glen did convey the news that New York City's H3 architectural firm — which designed BAM's stunning new Richard B. Fisher building — has been contracted to design our university's ambitious Visual and Performing Arts Center.
Designs for the complex — which is to include a 750-seat performance space and be located along North Nevada Avenue — will be completed early next year. Of course, there's still the matter of that $58 million price tag and two-year construction phase, but hey, those are just details.
Ultimately, the VaPA center may prove as important for the community as it will be for the university. "The BAM building has played a vital role in transforming the cultural and economic revitalization of Brooklyn," Glen pointed out in a subsequent email. "We have every reason to believe H3 will design a very special arts facility, one that the UCCS campus and community at large deserve."
All of which brings us back to Questlove's "Electronium: The Future Was Then." Billed as an all-star mashup, the insanely eclectic concert found the Roots bandleader joined by a core group that included the Metropolis Ensemble chamber orchestra, beatboxer Rahzel, drum machinist Jeremy Ellis and experimental pop instrumentalists Sonnymoon.
While there was no shortage of experimental electronics, the concert was made more accessible by an ever-shifting lineup of art-pop vocalists. Among them were Tom Krell, who records as How to Dress Well, and Emily Wells, whose ethereal "Passenger" made me wonder how I'd never heard of her until now. And then there was Roots guitarist Kirk Douglas' extended solo: part Jimi Hendrix, part David Gilmour, and altogether amazing. All in all, a concert I'll never forget.
OK, there's really no appropriate transition from Questlove to Lou Reed, so I won't even try. Despite being a fan — I was actually reading a book about his Velvet Underground years on the plane back from New York — I found the news of his death last week more upsetting than I would ever have expected. Meanwhile, heartfelt testimonials from the likes of Patti Smith, Laurie Anderson and Neil Gaiman were counterbalanced by post-mortem condemnations of him as abrasive and antagonistic.
My own Lou Reed anecdote — seems like every music journalist has one — goes back a decade. I'd been scheduled to interview him about his 2003 album, The Raven, when the magazine I was editing went out of business. Bill Bentley, who was Reed's publicist, called to express his condolences and to suggest that I instead interview Reed for the extended press release that would go out with the record.
About two questions into the subsequent phone interview, the musician's patience ran out. "Why is it YOU doing this interview instead of Bill?" he complained. "I don't know you from Adam."
I explained the circumstances, after which he gradually shifted to a kinder, more empathetic version of himself. He gave me tons of material to work with, and went on to ask questions about my dog (whom he'd heard in the background) and about how I liked living in Los Angeles. (He didn't understand why he and Laurie didn't just get out of New York and move to the West Coast.)
When a FedEx guy showed up at his door, Reed said he had to go take care of it. Figuring the conversation was over, I thanked him for his time. To my surprise, he asked if he could call back and talk more.
My guess is that Lou Reed's M.O. was to challenge people, not so much to control them as to judge their reactions. Respectful or contentious or indifferent — whatever response he sensed — he would then mimic. It's as if his song "I'll Be Your Mirror" was meant literally.
As with so many of us, his music meant the world to me, and I'm still saddened that he's no longer in it.