Nick Cave and Lou Reed 2

When Lou Reed ‘wept’ after meeting Nick Cave in a Los Angeles studio

To elicit an emotional reaction from his fans is Nick Cave’s bread and butter. But to witness a similar response from one of his idols, Lou Reed, was humbling.

Nick Cave has a transcendental effect on people who see him perform. At his concerts, no matter how jubilant or heartbreaking, audiences flood to the front just to paw at him as he reaches out to their hands, like a besuited deity or preacher man that’s just witnessed a divine presence after completing a pilgrimage through the desert. 

Though, the effect he has isn’t unexplainable. Cave’s vivid, haunting lyricism affronts life’s horrors as much as it does the moments of unbridled joy and relief, mirrored by the composition of his songs, which flit from raging catharism to pained balladry whenever his words require it. 

After the passing of Lou Reed on 27th October 2013, Cave offered some poignant words for Channel 4’s obituary on the news that evening. It was from Reed that he learned that juxtaposing musical elements could fuse in confronting new ways, admitting that it was Reed and the Velvet Underground that inspired him to become a musician, like many others. “He taught me that you can put the most sonically aggressive music and put it side by side with some of the most beautiful ballads that anyone has ever written,” Cave said.

Eliciting an emotional reaction from his fans is Nick Cave’s speciality. But witnessing a similar response from one of his idols was humbling. 

Nick Cave and Lou Reed
Nick Cave and Lou Reed during rehearsals for the Dublin Theatre Festival presentation of ‘Came So Far For Beauty: An Evening of Leonard Cohen songs’ at The Point Theatre on October 3, 2006 in Dublin, Ireland. (Photo by ShowBizIreland/Getty Images)

That’s exactly what happened when Lou Reed “wept” after meeting Cave in Los Angeles, an artist who profoundly impacted his artistry. However, it was a rendition of a Velvet Underground song that Cave encouraged bluegrass musician Ralph Stanley to cover, which caught Reed unawares.

While writing and compiling the soundtrack to Lawless, Cave’s 2012 Prohibition-era crime drama, he and Warren Ellis were in the studio together when their producer Hal Willner dropped by, with Lou in tow. 

“We had managed to get the bluegrass musician Ralph Stanley to sing an acapella version of ‘White Light, White Heat’ by The Velvet Underground for the end titles of the movie,” Cave explained in his book Faith, Hope And Carnage, which was co-authored by Sean O’Hagan. “It was a complete fucking coup! Amazing.”

“Hal had gone to Virginia or wherever to record him, which was an enormous challenge in itself,” Cave continued. “Ralph Stanley was, to say the least, highly suspicious of the project. Ralph didn’t much like venturing out of his zone, shall we say. God knows what he made of Hal! Anyway, Hal managed to get this extraordinary performance out of Ralph. This was one of Hal’s singular talents, to push musicians out of their areas of comfort and to perform across genres with other musicians – these loony ideas that shouldn’t have worked but almost always did!”

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“Warren and I were working in a studio in LA, and Hal comes in with Lou, and Lou sits down and we play him the Ralph Stanley version of ‘White Light, White Heat’. And Lou just wept, right there on the sofa. It was such a beautiful, amazing moment, because we didn’t know Lou well at that time.”

Lou Reed and Nick Cave became close friends from then onwards, dining and even performing together on occasion. Cave clearly had a great reverence for Reed, which is why he was compelled to speak about him after his passing.

“He moved beautifully about and surprised people,” Cave told Channel 4. “He could do something very tender, something very thoughtful and then something that you had to rethink over again whether you liked Lou Reed again. His records were so polarising.”

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