HOW LOU REED TAUGHT ME TO PLAY BETTER GOLF - Tim O'Connor
I had the coolest job in the world. In my world, at least.
In 1986, I was the music critic for the Canadian Press news agency in Toronto. I was paid to listen to albums, go to concerts and interview rock stars, and write about it all. Among the folks I interviewed one-on-one were David Bowie, Robert Plant, Peter Gabriel and Joe Strummer.
Usually, I was pretty cool about meeting these people, but every once in a while I’d get nervous, not dissimilar to the feeling I get giving speeches, or teeing it up in a golf tournament. (I’m an over-the-top golfer and performance coach.)
I don’t think Lou Reed ever played golf, but he gave me one of the greatest golf lessons of my life.
I conducted the interview about 30 years ago, but I fully realized the gift of his wisdom—for golf, writing and frankly for my life—three years ago when he passed away at age 71.
Part of my nervousness came from being a huge fan—an occupational hazard—but also Reed’s legendary disdain for journalists. He didn’t appear to care about fame or how people—and certainly critics—reacted to his music which often captured the underbelly of New York’s drug and sexual subculture in songs like Walk on the Wild Side and Heroin.
I invested my nervous energy into earnestly preparing and writing out all my questions. I studied his lyrics on Mistrial, the new album he was promoting. I would be ready with intelligent, penetrating questions that would demonstrate that I was a smart, on-the-ball and certainly cool journalist.
I phoned the number provided for the interview. I quickly launched into my first brilliant question: “Is Mistrial an attempt to set the record straight about you and your nefarious past now that you’re 43, married and respectable enough to be used in an advertising for a motorcycle brand?”
“I don’t think about that.” Silence.
I jumped to my second penetratingly dazzling question, which was a just a variation on the first. “Is Mistrial a way of saying that we’ve misjudged you, and that we were distracted from the real Lou by the make-up, androgyny and heroin?”
“You know man, I don’t get into the meaning of all this.”
Oh my God.
I was near panic when—completely off my script— I blurted: “I love the sound of the guitars on this album.”
He responded with a sincere “thank you” and launched into an enthused explanation of how they recorded the guitars to get the distinctive sound, and we proceeded to have a relaxed and engaging conversation.
As time for the interview was winding up, Reed said, “Hey man, I know where you were going at the start, but I don’t try to get too much into the why of these things or I might stop the process. I find out about it later on, but if I went and interfered with the process, either I might not finish anything or I’d start leaving things out because I’d worry about what the songs mean.”
Now it was my turn to offer a sincere thank you, and we finished the interview.
When Reed died in 2013, I wrote an appreciation about him. In revisiting the memory of the interview, I came to more fully grasp what Reed meant about not interfering in the process—and the gift that he gave me.
Throughout my life, I have felt compelled to do everything right. For things that I was passionate about—including writing, speaking and certainly golf—I would obsess, over-prepare and fixate.
Despite all my preparation and focus on doing things expertly, much of the time I was frustrated, tense and bottled up. And thus, I chronically failed to live up to my expectations. I was a classic paralysis-by-analysis basket case.
Reed’s nugget of wisdom was a milestone in my understanding of self-interference. He provided me with insight into how great performers lose themselves in the action of creation and performance. They allow rather than try.
I had yet another Lou Reed moment this past February when I met Gareth Higgins and he told me about The Porch. I looked at the website and saw that Gareth had taken Reed’s “rules for living”—as told by his widow Laurie Anderson—and made them the jumping off point for The Porch manifesto:
“Don’t be afraid of anybody
Get a really good bullshit detector
Be really really tender”
I smiled when I read it because few people ever thought Reed to be particularly tender, but he was with me. I have shared this story with a few folks through the years and most everyone was surprised. They had the same impression—that he was Grade A Hardass who relished that role. “Gimme an issue and I’ll give you a tissue,” he spat out on 1978’s Live: Take No Prisoners album.
But only a tender person would have the empathy to see the broken souls who populated his songs—folks hanging on by a thread, a fix or a trick. Most of us look away. Lou was not afraid to look the desperate and the destitute right in the eye and see the human in there. And he certainly wasn’t afraid of what anyone might think or say about his direct verse.
I took Reed’s rule to “get a bullshit detector” to mean, ‘Hey pal, use the common sense, brains and talent that you’ve already got, and don’t give a f*** about doing things right or trying to living up to expectations.’
Lou Reed wore his tough-as-nails exterior well, but I believe he was really a sweet and beautiful man beset with his own demons. I wish that I had the opportunity to get to know him beyond a single phone interview.
But when I find myself obsessing and trying hard—which I'm still prone to do—I’ll sometimes think of my Lou Reed moment. I’ll allow myself to let go of perfectionism, or of pretending that I can have the outcome wrapped up in advance. Maybe take a walk on my wild side.
Tim O’Connor is a writer and performance coach. He lives in Guelph, Ontario, and owns three leather jackets. He podcasts at http://oconnorgolf.ca/swing-thoughts-podcast