Multi-media artist Clifford Ross remembers the late musician.
Lou came into my life, not on a pedestal, but at ground level. He was a New York icon, but I met him in a very relaxed way in the early 90’s, when he was with Laurie Anderson, an old friend. For a guy who was famous for being grouchy, he sure was sweet.
He saw it all. A hug from Lou always came with an extra, emphatic squeeze that somehow conveyed, “I get you. (And I love you anyway.)” Lou was the one who gave his friends a perfect day. Forgive the transposition, but he made me forget myself, and think I was someone else, someone good.
Lou was a magician, the proof not just in the songs, but also in the way people experienced life around him. Sometimes I felt like I was in a special, synchronous orbit with him, way above where I was supposed to be living. A slice of pizza at midnight after dinner in the West Village. Watching the sky as the millennium passed by us on a rooftop in Marrakech.
About 15 years ago, I had been working for six months on a series of photographs that were so abstract they hardly existed. The most positive response I got was from a couple of visitors who said they didn’t understand them. I had begun to think maybe they shouldn’t exist at all. Lou came to the studio, looked around at the work, didn’t offer an opinion, and asked if they meant anything to me. He was stone cold. He finally said, “If you think it’s meaningful, eventually someone else will, too. Fuck everyone else until that day comes.” The next day he dropped off a CD—it was Metal Machine Music. He told me to listen to it—if I could stand it—and that it almost destroyed his career. A truly unique form of encouragement. Hilarious when you think about it. And it worked.
I finished the “Grain” series – and it was the body of work that the critic Arthur Danto told me was “my singularity” – the extreme that would define the rest of my work. And he wrote about it. I wish he had mentioned Lou.
For me, Lou’s “fuck-everyone-else” attitude defined the path to making real art. More importantly, people came to realize that his tough, “fuck-everyone-else” attitude was a pedestal for the truth.
Lou lived and worked at ground level while teaching many of us how to orbit. He didn’t need a pedestal. He built one for us.