How studying Tai Chi impacted Lou Reed

Lou Reed was an interesting guy, to say the least, and his intrigue doesn’t stop with his music, his persona, his fashion sense, or even his poetry, if you can believe it. The man had a lot of hobbies, but I’m sure even he would be the first to tell you that Tai Chi was more than just a hobby to him.

When visiting the archives of his life in the current exhibition at The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts, it can be easy enough to get lost in it all. His record collection, old tapes, instruments, and letters are bound to steal the show. However, towards the end of the exhibition, visitors will find a bunch of weapons hanging on the wall.

It’s true, Reed loved to practice Tai Chi, and had spoken of his affinity for it many times before: “I have studied the art for 25 years. The first 15 years in preparation for my adventures with my teacher, Master Ren Guangyi. Not to get too flowery here but I want more out of life than a gold record and fame,” the former Velvet Underground man commented. “I want to mature like a warrior. I want the power and grace I never had a chance to learn. Tai Chi puts you in touch with the invisible power of—yes—the universe. Change your energy, change your mind.”

In talking to Laurie Anderson, the American avant-garde artist who was married to Reed until the end of his life in 2013, at the exhibition, she spoke of his dedication to the practice. And Anderson would know—she was with him for 21 years.

Anderson spoke of how in traditional Tai Chi practices, the forms take up a lot of space, so in order to practice while touring, Reed’s teacher created a specific set of forms that he could do in confined spaces like hotel rooms and even on the road. They called it the 21-form.

Glancing at the intimidating weapons on the wall, Anderson noticed the expressions around the room within the exhibition. Frightened? Maybe a little bit. She nudged with some humour, “I have about 100 of Lou’s Tai Chi weapons,” she nodded. “And they’re all very heavy.”

One might assume that the weapons that ended up on display were the highlights of the collection. Regardless, the art of Tai Chi is an ancient practice that many people find an incredible value in, and it seems that Lou Reed was one of them. It isn’t tough to surmise that it brought him some calm and artistic inspiration.

(Credit: Jamie Kahn)
(Credit: Jamie Kahn)

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