Lou Reed was many things: a musician, singer, songwriter, poet, and founding member of the Velvet Underground. But he was also an accomplished martial artist, with a passion for Tai Chi that began in the 1980s.
Lou Reed, the iconoclastic frontman of The Velvet Underground, was a master of crafting gritty, streetwise tales of New York City life that both celebrated and subverted the American Dream, earning him a place as one of the most influential musicians of the 20th century. His wife Laurie Anderson is a multimedia artist and performer, and visionary who blends music, video, and technology to create immersive, mind-bending experiences that challenge audiences to think and feel in new ways, cementing her status as a true pioneer of the avant-garde.
Between the two of them, they pioneered the downtown New York art scene, created a sonic and visual universe that challenged conventions and expanded the limits of music, performance, and technology, leaving an indelible mark on the cultural landscape.
Lou Reed’s love for Tai Chi is well-documented, and now his wife Laurie Anderson has edited a comprehensive collection of his writings on the martial art titled ‘The Art of the Straight Line’ (Harper Collins) The book features contributions from Reed’s friends, fellow musicians, and Tai Chi practitioners including conversations with Julian Schnabel, A. M. Homes, Hal Willner, Mingyur Rinpoche, Eddie Stern, Tony Visconti, and Iggy Pop, and includes over 150 photos, ephemera, and unpublished writings on martial arts, meditation, and life.
Anderson sees the book as a ‘helpful and specific how-to’ and an exciting insight into a lesser-known side of Reed. “Tai Chi is made of circles, circles within circles. So what’s straight? Well, that’s the art! How to move through circles without losing your sense of direction and your overall goal.” She went on to explain how much Lou loved to talk about Tai Chi and how excited he was to write this book. “He often showed people moves, corrected their posture, and gave advice about how to move.”
At the beginning of the project, Anderson and the other editors named themselves “the Eds.” “We come from very different worlds,” she explained. “Scott Richman worked and travelled with Lou, Bob Currie spent time with him as a friend, Stephan Berwick—a Chinese-style martial artist and writer—was also a friend of Lou’s, and I was his partner for twenty-one years. Together, we set out to put this book together. We see it as a helpful and specific ‘how-to’ as well as an exciting picture of a side of Lou that few people know,”
Lou Reed’s passion for Tai Chi was clear to everyone who knew him. “He was excited about writing this book, and he started out with lots of ideas and plans,” Anderson said. “But too many things intervened, and the book he began in 2009 was left as scattered notes when he died in 2013.”
Despite that, Anderson and the other editors were able to compile those scattered notes into a cohesive and insightful book that captures the urgency, commitment, and sense of humour in Lou Reed’s voice.
The Art of the Straight Line is out now at all good booksellers.