The news that Lou Reed is going to be playing his brilliantly grim Berlin song cycle in its entirety at London’s Hammersmith Apollo in June reminds me of when he played what was then known as Hammersmith Odeon, in April 1979, a night that ended in some mayhem, with Lou smacking the proverbial fuck out of David Bowie.
Lou was in London to promote his new album, The Bells, and was in a spectacularly cantankerous mood from the off. He kept the house lights up, to the discomfort of many, and in no uncertain terms announced that he wouldn’t be playing any of his classic songs, especially “Heroin”. If anyone was waiting for him to play the songs they’d been hoping to hear, he sneered, they could leave now – because he wasn’t in the mood for revisiting his back catalogue, of which he was anyway caustically dismissive.
An increasingly restive audience sat through an hour of the new album, and a 45 minute version of The Supremes’ “You Keep Me Hanging On”, sung by his bass player Ellard “Moose” Boles, which drove most of the audience screaming into the night, cursing the money they’d wasted and spitting blood at Lou’s perverse moodiness.
As soon as they were out of the theatre, Lou started a greatest hits set with a magnificent version of – yup! – “Heroin”.
After the show, I was invited to a dinner Lou was hosting at a restaurant in Knightsbridge, where I found him at the head of a table, deep in conversation with David Bowie. The pair had famously fallen out a few years earlier, but now seemed to have made things up and were behaving like the greatest of pals.
Until, that is, David said something to Lou that Lou reacted to by blowing up like a small but incredibly livid volcano. To everyone’s sudden shock and shaken amazement, Lou grabbed Bowie by the shirt front, hauled him across the table and started slapping him somewhat fiercely around the face, Bowie’s cheeks reddening dramatically and tears very quickly streaming down his face.
“Don’t you EVER say that,” Lou howled, thwacking David several times more before they were separated.
The silence that followed was grave, everyone afraid to say anything, much relief rushing through the room when Lou and David then embrace, kiss and make up amid much hugging. Things appear to have returned to what passes in this sort of company for normal, when Lou is at it, again, dragging Bowie back across the table and slapping him fairly senseless.
Whatever David had said to ignite the original skirmish, he has rather foolishly repeated.
“I told you NEVER to say that,” Lou screamed at Bowie, getting in a few more solid-looking punches before they are again separated and Lou, bug-eyed and struggling, was escorted from the restaurant.
Bowie was now alone at the table, surrounded by culinary chaos, dinner plates overturned, that sort of thing. I thought I’d go over for a consoling word and did, also asking David what he actually said to Lou. This caused more major ructions, with Bowie now taking a pop at me, the pair of us tussling roughly before Bowie’s security people march me back to my table and Bowie leaves in a huff.
“Goodnight, then, Thin White Duke,” I called after him, as he disappeared up a flight of stairs. There was a moment’s ominous silence and then a flower pot smashed into the wall at the foot of the stairs, just to the right of where I was sitting.
Bit of a night, all round.