Lou hated interviews. And, as he saw it, I was the person who forced him around Europe every eighteen months or so, to give them. We would joust endlessly – and had clear roles: me to get him through – him to come up with every conceivable way to make that difficult. Walking into a wall of knives every day was exhausting and damaging. But I kept telling myself I had to do it, it was my job. But really, I wanted him to be successful.
One tour Lou told me I wouldn’t be needed any more. He had an US publicist now, who would do the job much better than me. I put the final itinerary together, typed it all up and went home happily. Three days later I was in Paris. The girl was gone, and I was on.
That tour was called Magic and Loss: a song cycle Lou had written as a way of working through the deaths of two of his dearest friends. The promotion work proved incredibly emotional for him – and the pieces published at the time attest to the nightmare of those interviews. We had established a code that would clue me in as to how the interview was doing: if he asked me to light his cigarette (the hotels allowed him to smoke ) during my 10-minute check in; it meant he was doing ok. If he asked me to “buy me some Spirits”, I had to leave and return five minutes later. And end the interview. This infuriated the journalists no end. And had them writing nasty things about me: “Ha ha – now you know how it feels.”
In Paris, the concert promoter Alain Lahana explained the rules of engagement to the audience: “Mr Reed will play this song cycle from beginning to end. Do not clap until all of the music has stopped. Do not leave the theatre until interval. Do not shout song requests. He will play a selection of favourites after the second interval. This is an album about Loss. If you listen, you’ll hear the Magic. Merci.”
The lights dimmed and the band went into: “Dorita“: wailing, heraldic guitar and cymbal, spare. The audience clapped. The next song started and finished as planned. The audience clapped. Song three, someone in the balcony screamed: “Loooooooou – Sweet Jane”. Lou stopped playing. “Turn the house lights up”, he snarled. “Who was that? Tell me or the show is over.” Nervous audience members pointed out the culprit. Security escorted him out of the theatre. “Now”, said Lou, “let’s start at the beginning.”
The last time we toured together we ended our run in Stockholm. It had been three exhausting weeks and mostly uphill. Lou wanted to go to dinner early, so I left the interview suite to make plans, coming back 15 minutes later to find him gone. I called his room, knocked on the door, asked the concierge if he had walked past. No one had seen him.
On a hunch I followed the service stairs down into the deep kitchens. And walked through the maze of passages that wreath the underground of the Grand Hotel, until I found him: “Hey Lou, it’s this way.” He said nothing, turned around and followed me. We climbed the stairs as I told him about dinner plans, and I walked him to his room. He stopped at the door: “You came back for me?” I nodded. He stared at me for a moment, then said: “I’ll see you at 7.30.”
We travelled home on different airlines but he insisted I escort him to his plane. He gave me a fierce hug and awkwardly thrust a copy of his new book into my hands. I had held off asking for one, because he had been grumbling about how much they were costing him to give to journalists (in fact, we were paying for them. But he was a frugal fellow, so I didn’t put him straight).
“Don’t forget me”, he said and turned away.
I ran to my plane, just making it as the doors closed. Sat down and started to cry. The hostess bought me a glass of champagne and a tissue and said: “Don’t worry, you’ll see him again.” I laughed … “Oh dear Lord, I probably will.” Then I opened my book, the inscription read: “I love you Sue, Lou”.
Mr Reed had a liver transplant earlier this year. I sent him a message: “Lou, get better tout suite, there is still work to do.” He responded, as dry as ever: “Oh, well ok then: if you say so, Sue.” Neither of us had forgotten.
I love you too, Lou. Travel safe.