I came of age far too late to enjoy the late Lou Reed in his heyday, but in time for his 1990s revival. Much of the dialogue and soundtrack in Trainspotting (1996)–including the crazy overdose scene (content warning)–revolved around Reed, both as an icon and a musician. Before that movie, however, I was introduced to Reed’s music in the strangest circumstances, in what my friends came to call the “sweater girl story.”
I was a college freshman, head over heels for an older girl I met in chemistry class in the fall of 1995, a striking redhead who had been around the world and knew everything about art, high and low. We had been dating for a couple of weeks when her birthday came around, and I bought her a cashmere sweater, among other gifts, hoping to surprise her with them at her dorm in the morning and take her out for breakfast.
I woke her up–and the man in bed next to her, who went back to sleep. She was shocked, and so was I. She let her nightgown slip open, hoping that the striking view would help me forget what I had just seen.
Not knowing what to do, I meekly handed the presents over. Standing in her nightgown, she unwrapped them. She let the robe fall from her shoulders and put the sweater on–and nothing else. “Do you like it?” she said.
Long story short–I climbed somberly onto the shuttle bus back to Harvard Yard, my head swimming, my heart aching.
I stumbled up to the second floor of my dorm and told a couple of the guys. “Women suck,” they said, by way of comfort. I called my father, who laughed and said I’d forget about it the next day. That helped a bit, but I still had no idea what had just hit me.
As for the girl, she disappeared for a few days.
She re-emerged several days later and invited me to lunch to explain. We talked it over and ended up parting on friendly terms. To make it all up to me, she gave me a gift of her own: The Velvet Underground & Nico, the band’s Andy Warhol-driven debut album.
I went back to my room and listened to the whole thing. You could hear the 1960s–all of it–in the bright tones and sad themes. College had begun, I guess.
Here’s to Lou Reed, whose death became known, appropriately enough, on a “Sunday Morning.”