64 Minutes With Laurie Anderson and Lou Reed

Photo: Patrick McMullan

A mysterious box has arrived at Laurie Anderson’s downtown penthouse studio near the Hudson River. She’d been expecting her husband, Lou Reed, to show up, but not this package. And then, epiphany: “Oh, you know what, this is the violin … ” She trails off, realizing it’s from a violin designer in Bologna, Italy, who wants her to paint some instruments.

“It’s been crazy,” she says as she hustles around the airy loft with its wheat-colored hardwood floors and book-stuffed shelves. She and Reed are leaving tomorrow on a four-day trip to the British West Indies, and she has a session with an audio engineer to mix an album today. But what she really needs to focus on is garbage trucks.

Nearby, on the corner of Washington and Spring, the Sanitation Department has had plans approved for a garbage-truck garage and maintenance facility, plus a salt shed for 5,000 tons of road salt, that will set the city back close to $500 million. Neighbors are none too happy. The noise. The soot. The ugliness. In fact, a group of Hudson Square community members has filed suit against the city and proposed an alternative: Hudson Rise, an elevated park with the garage neatly tucked beneath grass. Last month, Anderson and Reed participated in a pro-Rise video organized by Saatchi & Saatchi, also a neighbor.

Anderson has had this place since 1974. And although she lives with Reed in the Village, she still uses it for work. “When Lou’s away, I stay here—relive those crazy bachelor days.” This means working all night and “just goofing around,” harder to do in a couple. Her voice takes on the faux-nagging cadence of Reed’s: “You’re doing what? You’re working till when?”

She loves looking out at the river. “I mean, Melville talked about access to the water in one of the early chapters of Moby-Dick, about the ‘crowds of water-gazers.’ ” She moves her hand along the window (above a piece of driftwood on the sill) and points to where there once was an elevated highway. The neighborhood was grittier then, a better place for garbage trucks, but more peaceful too. Even the highway had its moments of reverie.

There was a woman who lived in one of its pylons, Anderson recalls, a homeless woman with a refrigerator and stove. “She had a great setup—a little apartment.” Gazing down at her was “like finding a bird’s nest. You’re going, ‘What? Wow. It’s got legs.’ ”

Reed walks in, past the bikes outside the door. Anderson lets him have the rocking chair and sits on a golden-yellow velour love seat, the couple’s rat terrier, Lolabelle, in her lap. They’re willing to fight this thing, they say—the way they successfully fought for the reinvention of Canal Park, just across from spiffy Hudson River Park. “This is typical,” Reed exclaims. “To put this at the apex of two parks is insane, so defaming the neighborhood, so insulting, so pointless. When you’ve just had a park restored.” He suggests that Bloomberg put it “next to his townhouse.” Or near St. Vincent’s Hospital. “Then you can poison a lot of sick people instead of poisoning people who are not sick.”

“Not to mention animals who will wade through salt and crap,” says Anderson.

Reed turns to Lolabelle. She’s just had an operation, and they’re doting on her more than usual. “Why isn’t your nose clean?” Reed asks the dog, before kissing her on the mouth. She’s coming to the Caribbean, too. “Lolabelle, you know where we’re going tomorrow?” says Anderson in singsong. “The beach!” Anderson yelps twice.

Reed walks over to the window. “I’m here all the time. I watched 9/11, I watched the plane land, I don’t want to watch this get done. Two disasters are enough. A third, environmental disaster caused by us on purpose? I mean, the plane was geese, 9/11 was them. This is us. Okay?”

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64 Minutes With Laurie Anderson and Lou Reed