In Laurie Anderson’s first, brief public statement after the death of her lover Lou Reed, some people may have been surprised how much she emphasized Lou’s tranquil appreciation of nature, a product (in part) of his many years dedicated to the ancient Chinese martial art of tai chi:
Lou was a tai chi master and spent his last days here being happy and dazzled by the beauty and power and softness of nature. He died on Sunday morning looking at the trees and doing the famous 21 form of tai chi with just his musician hands moving through the air.
This paragraph was one of five in the statement, also the longest paragraph of the statement.
I was reading a very insightful and informative remembrance of Lou’s life by the esteemed record producer Tony Visconti, and a detail towards the end caught my eye:
[O]ver the past 10 years, he became one of my best friends. I used to study tai chi in London, which has been a mainstay of my whole life. When I was speaking casually to David Bowie about how it was hard to find a teacher as good as the one I had in London, he said, “Why don’t you speak to Lou? Lou studies tai chi.” I said, “OK, that’ll be interesting.” Now I felt that I could confront Lou face to face.
All I had to do was mention those two words: tai chi. Lou just opened up like a flower and said, “Wow, I didn’t know you were interested in that. I have a great teacher and his name is Master Ren Guang-Yi.” I signed up immediately after I saw Lou’s teacher. Lou started a year earlier with the same teacher.
I had seen Lou hundreds of times in the past 10 years, mainly almost every Sunday in New York City at our Sunday class. We lived only four blocks away in the West Village. I would go over to his place and practice with him. We became very close friends.
We had people from all walks of life in our class, a banker, a plumber, a construction worker, a Japanese translator . . . all these varied people from all walks of life, and Lou was just one of us. Afterward sometimes as many of 12 of us went out for brunch right after class and Lou was right there sitting in the middle of it. It was wonderful. To know him on that level was just incredible. I can’t tell you how serious he was about it. He was one of the most serious people I know about studying some arcane subject like that.
Last night at tai chi we were very choked up. The class is very, very strict. It runs a certain way. But the teacher turned to us at the beginning and said, “Can we have a moment of silence for Lou?” He got very emotional and turned to the back of the room and turned up the music that Lou made for us. He mad special tai chi music that we trained to at every sessions. The teacher turned up the music so loud that it was rattling the windows. It was a whole minute with this synthesizer drone, a very deep note that Lou made just for tai chi. The windows rattled and we’re sitting there in the tai chi position, the tears welling up. When the minute was over we resumed class. It started out extremely depressing, but it got better and at the end we had an impromptu storytelling period. We shared our memories of Lou.
So Lou Reed scored his own tai chi sessions.
As a prolific musician and artist, it isn’t surprising that Lou channeled his art into his tai chi, which was so important to him in his last years. In 2008 he released Hudson River Wind Meditations, a collection of music suitable for the practice of tai chi.
In 2010 his own tai chi master, Ren GuangYi, released a DVD of tai chi instruction under the title Power and Serenity: The Art of Master Ren GuangYi. On Lou’s website, in an entirely humble and unfussy way, it states that the DVD ” features six new tracks of original music composed and performed by Lou Reed and Sarth Calhoun: ‘The Power of Red,’ ‘Cymbalism,’ ‘Power and Serenity,’ ‘Liquid,’ ‘Metallic Opera,’ and ‘Guitar Mountain.’”
Hudson River Wind Meditations: