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:: June 2007 Volume 6/Number 5

Sitting Down With:
Lou Reed
On Tai Chi, Meditation Music and Care of the Knees.

By: BOB BELINOFF

Lou Reed is a singer, songwriter and poet, the other man in black.

He is a denizen of the ’60s; Andy Warhol’s Factory scene and groundbreaking albums beginning with the legendary Velvet Underground.

Alive, kicking and exploring, Reed still inhabits the avant-garde fringes in this, the first decade of the new century. Lou Reed is a Grammy winner and a member of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. A long-time pioneer in experimental music, this year Lou has broken new ground in what has long been a somewhat familiar meditation music scene. His new album, Hudson River Wind Meditations, with spare, hypnotic techno-harmonics is a change of pace for him, anyone who listens to meditation music and anyone who is a Lou Reed fan.

Until the album’s release, one would little suspect that for the past twenty years, as well as the dark part of the city and the heart, Lou Reed has also been investigating the heart space of the breath arts.

Specifically, Lou has been studying with Master Ren Guang Yi who also accompanies him occasionally on stage at Reed concert performances. Master Ren’s Chen-style Taijiquan (Tai Chi Chuan) is both soft and hard with occasional sharp bursts of staccato-like thrusts – somewhat like Mr. Reed. Lou Reed seems both quick and even-handed, calm and impulsive. He is scheduled to leave in a few weeks for a European tour. Before leaving for the recording studio in New York, he sat down, manager and personal assistant at his side, to talk to us about something other than Andy Warhol or a walk on the wild side.

His love is Tai Chi. Mine has always been Aikido. We talked about those arts, and music and knees.

Bob: You’ve been practicing Tai Chi for a while I believe?

Lou: For about twenty-four, twenty-five years.

Bob: I remember when I first discovered Aikido. When did you first discover Tai Chi and what was it at that time that you related to?

Lou: In the early ’80s. I was studying a hard style martial art and I was taken aside and told that I would really enjoy this, this other method, discipline. And it started from there.

Bob: Did that turn you on to meditation as well?

Lou: Well, eventually, but certainly not then. Then it was kind of along the lines of ahhh… knocking me across the room to show me what it was.

Bob: Was this when you discovered Master Ren?

Lou: No, Master Ren entered the picture four-and-a-half years ago.

Bob: What was it about um the Chen Taijiquan, made you say “wait a minute here…”

Lou: The power. The power of it was astonishing. This, uh, sudden release, this explosive, exploding power, internal power, exploding power.

Bob: And did this…

Lou: Anybody who’s ever seen it is in our class now (laughter). It’s uh you know it’s a martial art that also happens to be a health system; it’s kind of nice…

Bob: And it…

Very, very shameful that that part of our education is completely ignored. It’s just really tragic. I think that’s why our foreign policy is what it is but that’s a whole other story. Anyway, good for David Lynch, isn’t that great?

Lou: …works out to your advantage. You know Aikido and Aikido people, you can only keep that Aikido going so long then it’s probably not a great idea to get thrown down. You know, I mean I don’t know whether you still practice with the throw downs…

Bob: Well my knees are, after two surgeries, uh…

Lou: Aha!

Bob: Yeah.

Lou: There you have it!

Bob: There you have it.

Lou: Yeah. You know, one of the great things, if I may say, about Master Ren is that I was very impressed by the fact he is always watching out for peoples’ knees. Very important. Because in yoga and Tai Chi…I mean I’ve had people try Tai Chi where the teacher doesn’t pay attention put it that way. And it doesn’t even matter what style. But uh where they came back (he laughs) and they can’t walk or they say their knee is…you know…

Bob: …gone

Lou: …if you can get the fundamental stance and get into your body the correct alignment is, it becomes a non-issue. Especially if you have a teacher who corrects that stance of stretch periodically. But if he doesn’t, I mean if you’re like in a big class where no one pays attention to you…

Bob: Yes…

Lou: …and you just follow. You can’t just follow. You know what I mean? Our eyes can fool us. I’ve had this happen to me so many times that I’m not surprised by it anymore. Where I think I’m doing it right and then he comes over and corrects you and you suddenly go from a position of weakness to strength…and you we’re talking about a blade of grass.

That’s a real big deal. It is a really serious issue and one of the guys in our class is a doctor which is kind of interesting and he was in the class uh because his brother had told him about some of the medical benefits accrued from it. And there was a real problem with an area of the body and after doing this that – you know he was heading for surgery and now he’s not.
Bob: Well this is interesting because I’ve had to stop practicing Aikido, which is like breaking up a love affair, and I haven’t been able to transfer that love completely because for some reason I go like Tai Chi, the energy just seems too slow I can’t slow down.

Lou: Yeah well…

Bob: Not like me.

Lou: Well its different if you’re talking about Chen Taijiquan. Chen Taijiquan is not that slow one in the park. Put it that way.

Bob: Mm-hmm.


Mingyur M-I-N-G-Y-U-R Rinpoche, you know Rinpoche…? He’s my teacher for flat out meditation and the why’s and when’s of everything.

Lou: It’s slow fast. Slow fast. Slow fast power. I mean its fast, there are some forms in there that are so fast you can’t learn it. You know it’s like he won’t even…You know, he shows it to me once in a while, I go, “no” I know like the first eleven moves (laughter).

Bob: That’s enough…

Lou: And that’s exhausting because it’s fast, I mean really fast. And the meditative quality in Chen. I mean seriously. But again it’s like anything else it depends on the teacher. They say Tai Chi is a working meditation. But this is also, you know, the Chen as taught by Ren GuangYi is based around power.

Bob: Is this type of Tai Chi helpful in treating an injury once you have it? I’ve got a knee that the guys want to operate on again.

Lou: It depends what it is and what the teacher would say. The knees are really tricky. One of the guys in our class um was doing a thing called push hands?

Bob: Sure.

Lou: And he did it with someone who was not careful and that person put his knee out. Just like that. He had to have knee surgery. Not because he was negligent but because the other guy pulled a move that you just don’t pull. You know what I mean? As seemingly as gentle as pushing seems to be, this is not gentle.

Bob: Looks gentle, when you see it in the park, but it’s not…

Lou: This push hands is anything but gentle. You know, it just looks that way initially but once you get going it’s not that. But anyway, this guy knocked him down with push hands and this is a very advanced guy that had this done to him – so it’s really a very bad thing. And he had knee surgery. Now he’s back and he’s been doing the practice you know, you’d never even know it. You know, and he’s doing all of it.

But he’s a knowledgeable guy. I can’t answer your question about treating a knee injury, I can’t answer a question like that because I don’t know enough…to recommend. But like I said people come in with shoulder injuries neck injuries and now they don’t exist anymore from practicing the form. I mean it’s an energy-based form that’s very, that has healing properties too. That’s why it’s a health system it’s just also a fighting system. We get a lot of musicians in there like you know violinist with a shoulder problem this kind of stuff… and you know um but they don’t have the problem anymore.

Bob: I should ask you for readers here, is there, uh, is this Chen style available in Los Angeles are there teachers do you know of?

Lou: Uh, um I don’t. You know my teacher Ren GuangYi his teacher is Master Chen Xiao-Wang as in Chen Village Chen Taijiquan and I would go to their web page to see if any of, any of their people are in LA. [ymaa.com]

Bob: What’s your practice like? Do you…

Lou: Every day two hours.

Bob: No shit.

So I just have it on all day, and it’s just filling things in and making it nice. And, I use it for the meditation.

Lou: Really. I mean as best as I can within reason you know like sometimes I can’t start the full two but I’m doing it every day. But it’s not because I’m highly disciplined it’s because it makes me feel good.

Bob: When you go on the road, like you’re about to do for an extended trip, you still practice every day?

Lou: I bring my weapons and my stuff and I try to make arrangements somehow to practice.

Bob: Really.

Lou: If I don’t I’m going to be hurting. I’ve crossed – you know what I mean? – I’ve crossed over the line.

Bob: Yeah.

Lou: It used to be it hurt from doing it. And now it hurts if I don’t. So what I do is I go I go into a hotel and I ask them is anybody using this business conference room…and if they’re not, I ask them gee do you mind if I move the chairs? Or, is there a backyard or can is anyone in the parking lot? You know because gyms usually aren’t big enough.

Bob: And this is something you’ll do by yourself…

Lou: Yeah.

Bob: …without music?

Lou: Well I compose my own music…All I need is me and some space. And if I can’t do that I do it in my head.

Bob: Ah, tell me about that.

Lou: I do the form in my head. Like, when if I can’t possibly do it I do it in my head so I don’t forget the moves.

Bob: While you’re sitting or walking or just…

Lou: Doesn’t matter.

Bob: And that’s a form of, well the practice itself is a form of moving meditation.

Lou: Well sure, sure.

Bob: And do you have a meditation practice as well?

Lou: Yeah, I studied with uh… he’s got a book out called The Joy of Living and you can look it up Mingyur M-I-N-G-Y-U-R Rinpoche, you know Rinpoche…? He’s my teacher for flat out meditation and the why’s and when’s of everything.

Bob: David Lynch has a book out about meditation and the creative process…

Lou: Really? No kidding.

Bob: Well he’s a big-time meditator, a part of the TM movement with Maharishi…

Lou: You mean the original Maharishi all the way back in when?

Bob: Yes, he’s now based in Iowa…

Lou: Transcendental Meditation?

Bob: Yes.

Lou: Okay, so that’s the Beatle guy.

Bob: David Lynch has started a foundation called the Lynch Foundation to bring meditation into schools.

Lou: That is so great. You know I was, I forget where the hell we were but we were running into a lot of people from Bali and they get taught this in school…and you know typically, we’re not even given a clue.

Bob: Right.

Lou: Very, very shameful that that part of our education is completely ignored. It’s just really tragic. I think that’s why our foreign policy is what it is but that’s a whole other story. Anyway, good for David Lynch, isn’t that great?

Lou: Well I’m pleased you know my little CD out there…

Bob: Yeah, at some point take a look at his website too because it might be inspirational for you as well. Um let me ask you about your new CD, Hudson River Wind Meditations. What’s the genesis of that?

Lou: I had made it for myself. Just for um a number of different uses, and meditation bodywork Tai Chi and I also would just leave it on all day…because um it absorbs the outside sounds that might be irritating otherwise.

It blends it into whatever’s going on for some reason. I don’t know why that worked but it did. So I just have it on all day, and it’s just filling things in and making it nice. And, I use it for the meditation. People started saying to me “can I have a copy of that,” you know, “can you put that music on?” So I did that enough and then after a while I thought this is really great, you know. We put just the music out on the theory that you probably have your own meditation you’re doing and this is a great music to do it to rather than me putting the voice on it.

Bob: Hmmmm. I have in my notes, and I don’t know if it’s something that I wrote or that you wrote but the sound of radar or sonar…

Lou: That’s not me.

Bob: That’s not you, okay.

I’m not different from you or any other people. If it works for me it works for you.

Lou: No, I don’t know from radar or sonar, it has nothing to do with me.

Bob: The “Find Your Note” piece there’s the sound of a glass bowl almost…

Lou: Well, it could be a lot of things…but a glass bowl is good enough.

Bob: So you did this essentially did this music for yourself?

Lou: I did it a hundred percent for myself.

Bob: And what kind of reaction have you gotten so far from it being out there?

Lou: People seem to respond to it in the spirit in which it was put out. I mean it is what it is. What I like about it is that it’s not traditional and it’s very modern and contemporary.

And it has certain goals in mind I think it accomplishes them.

Bob: I’m sure it does.

Lou: I’m not different from you or any other people. If it works for me it works for you.

Bob: And the goal being…

Lou: To help you meditate. Or to work at anything where you know the music can be meditative or energizing depending how you’re listening to it. And, like I said it can be an overall aural blanket.

Bob: Your music has always been for me, and I think for many people, part of an edge in the cultural milieu, it’s been on the edge.

Lou: Well, there’s no edge on this, although people would say me even putting it out is on the edge…

Bob: Yes absolutely.

Lou: …to my own career I mean.

Bob: Well that’s true, are you concerned with what people think?

Lou: If I ever listened to what other people think about anything…I would grind to a halt. I don’t have any interest in that side of it or view of it at all.

Bob: That’s never been a part of your craft?

Lou: Yep. Yep. I’m very hard core. I follow the bouncing ball wherever it goes, and I don’t care.

Bob: And when you first started to practice Tai Chi twenty years ago, twenty-five years ago…Did that change your uh the kind of work you were doing in music, really, your approach to what you were creating?

Lou: Learning the fundamentals of foundational strength and alignment is a real big deal…and you can’t lose for knowing that. I wish I’d been a little smarter then than I was, but it’s taken a long time for me to realize the, you know, complexity and simplicity of what I’ve been taught and the ramifications it has on just things like walking and breathing, more or less doing something. And at that point I think I’d have to say good-bye because I have to get to the studio, okay?

Bob: We’re all set.

Lou: I’m gone.

Bob Belinoff is a documentary filmmaker and public health consultant.
www.publichealthzoom.com bob@digitalworkshop.com

Photo: © Timothy Greenfield-Sanders, www.greenfield-sanders.com

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