Last Sunday we found out that Lou Reed had died after what seems like a difficult battle with liver disease, and a predictable flood of obituaries followed, paying tribute to a “rock original,” a musician credited with laying the groundwork for what would become punk rock. While that genre has been characterized by nihilistic excess (or some might say righteous anger), Reed’s roots contribution was syncretizing literary inspiration (his mentor, Delmore Schwarz) with a bipolar attack of light melodies and dark discordance.
Back in the early late 90s, when you could still afford to go to a trendy Downtown restaurant, I was trying to impress a new girlfriend, so I took her to Indochine across the street from the Public Theater. Suddenly, a couple of booths down, Lou Reed and Laurie Anderson appeared. It was the first time I’d known they were dating. I had always thought she was the bomb, from back when she was playing those tape loops on her violin. Seems like they were a great couple.
But before there was Laurie–a shadowy ex-rock critic for the Village Voice once told me in his East Village tenement living room–there was Sylvia Morales, whom Lou married in the early ’80s. When I saw the above photo of her, I experienced a shock of recognition–we share a last name, and she looks like she could be my cousin. Various sources refer to her as a British designer, a writer, and an “alleged stripper and part-time dominatrix.” While this piece in Slate examines the well-documented rumor that Reed was bisexual, he had such a thing for Sylvia that in “Heavenly Arms,” a song written about her (he repeats her name 5x in the chorus), he proclaims that “only a woman can love a man.”
Reed may have been strung out waiting for his man on Lexington 125, or still reeling from the legendary electro-shock therapy he was subjected to for the purpose of shocking him straight, but it seems it was Sylvia who showed him that, like Roxy Music said, “love is the drug.”
“In a world full of hate/Love should never wait,” he serenaded her. That was true like 30 years ago, and it’s still true. Maybe even more so now.
Lou Reed triumphed by turning a love for literature and a philosophy about personal alienation into a recording career. He’s a Brooklyn OG who will be missed. But I’ve always wondered, who was Sylvia? Wish we had a chance to ask Lou before he left us.