Lou Reed had voiced his admiration for Catalan poetry on numerous occasions

The rock star, who died on Sunday aged 71, participated in activities promoting Catalan culture and literature in the world. Lou Reed had stated on several occasions his admiration for some Catalan poets. The Velvet Underground founder worked with the Ramon Llull Institute (IRL) in two readings of Catalan Poetry in English. The first one took place in New-York in 2007 and the Punk icon Patti Smith as well as Reed’s life partner, the artist Laurie Anderson, also participated. The other was in Barcelona, in 2008, with only Lou Reed on stage. Some of the poems read were from Gabriel Ferrater, Perejaume, Enric Casasses, Maria Mercè Marçal and Miquel Martí i Pol.

Lou Reed presenting 'Pass Thru Fire' in Barcelona in 2009 (by G. Sánchez)
Lou Reed presenting 'Pass Thru Fire' in Barcelona in 2009 (by G. Sánchez) / ACN


October 28, 2013 09:46 PM

Barcelona (ACN).- Lou Reed, who died on Sunday at age 71, had expressed his admiration for Catalan culture and literature on several occasions. The world-famous rock star had actively contributed to promoting Catalan culture in the world, working with the Ramon Llull Institute (IRL), which is the public body in charge of promoting Catalan culture and language abroad. His involvement in this matter culminated in his two readings of Catalan poetry in English. The first one took place in the Baryshnikov Arts Centre of New-York in 2007 and Patti Smith and Reed’s life partner Laurie Anderson also participated in it. The second reading was in Barcelona’s Centre of Contemporary Culture (CCCB) in 2008, with only the author of ‘Walking on the wild side’ on stage. Writer Jaume Subirana said that before these readings, Catalan poetry “had only been living in one world and one language”, being almost totally unknown beyond Catalonia.

Lou Reed’s first stage performance in Catalonia occurred in 1975, at the height of Franco’s dictatorship. For censorship reasons, the Regime refused to allow him perform some of his songs, notably the famous ‘Heroin’. However, his relationship with Catalan culture started much later, in the years 2000s. The New-Yorker artist made two readings of Catalan poetry in 2007 and 2008, one of them in Barcelona. In addition, in 2009 he brought his show ‘The Yellow Pony’ to Catalonia, which he did together with his life-partner, the experimental artist Laurie Anderson.

Catalan poetry in New York, with Lou Reed and Patti Smith

In 2007, Lou Reed took part in the First Catalan Poetry Recital in English in New-York City, alongside Laurie Anderson and Punk icon Patti Smith. This event was organised by the Ramon Llull Institute for Catalan culture, under the theme ‘Made in CataluNYa’. The audience, dominated by Americans and Catalans living in New-York, responded with much enthusiasm to the Velvet Underground Artists’ reading of famous Catalan poems by Gabriel Ferrater, Perejaume or Maria Mercè Marçal, among others.

At the time, the writer Jaume Subirana, who was in charge of selecting the poems, said it had been a “risky but interesting experiment to radically strip poems apart” as this poetry until that day “had only been living in one word and one language”, being almost totally unknown beyond Catalonia. Nevertheless, he stated the result had been “extraordinary”.

All three world-star performers played a significant part in the poems’ selection process, choosing poets whom they could relate to. Lou Reed deeply enjoyed reading about Enric Cassasses’ perception of the New World in the poem entitled ‘America’. His rendering of Vicent Andrés Estellés’‘Les nits que van fent la nit’ (The nights that make the night) led to many smiles among the audience as Lou Reed clearly related to these verses, so much so that poet and reader became one and the same. Patti Smith was visibly touched reading one of Miquel Martí i Pol’s poems.

Lou Reed participated in Barcelona’s Kosmopolis Festival of Literature

During one of his visits to Catalonia, Reed took part in the Kosmopolis Festival of Literature which is hosted by the Barcelona Centre of Contemporary Culture (CCCB). During the 2008 event, the Velvet Underground member read works by Catalan authors such as Salvador Espriu, Joan Brossa, and Josep Carner. Only a few days later, Lou Reed presented in Barcelona his own book Pass Thru Fire, a compilation of poems and song lyrics that he perceived “as a novel”. In the book’s presentation, he explained that he admired Catalan poetry, although he “also enjoyed writing his own poems. He also added that after reading Catalan poems, he felt “he could have written them himself”, since he could very much relate to them.

Former Director of the Ramon Llull Institute, Josep Bargalló, acknowledged yesterday Lou Reed’s great involvement in promoting the Catalan language and culture. Bargalló highlighted his relationship with the rock star while preparing the two readings of Catalan poetry. “We wanted to present the Catalan culture as something that was very lively and contemporary artists such as Lou Reed were very active from the beginning,” he explained about the project.

Bits of Catalan culture in Lou Reed’s everyday life

In addition, Bargalló also told a curious and personal anecdote about Lou Reed. According to him, the world-famous rock star had for several months a fragment of a poem by Catalan author Blai Bonet about a boxer as his personal voicemail’s message.

Another example of Reed’s relation to Catalonia and one of the musician’s last and most peculiar images was the one that appeared on his Facebook account in December 2012, days before Christmas. Reed posted a drawing by the Catalan designer Xavier Boronat, picturing the Velvet Underground singer wearing a Catalan traditional beret and posing in front of what could be Catalonia’s Montserrat mountain.