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E40. Lou Reed's Nephew on Lou Reed
“That would be like Jesus actually having a son.”
Lewis Allan Reed, the son of a Long Island accountant and a beautiful typist, died of liver failure on October 27, 2013.
I remember exactly where I was.
I had gotten up early to settle things. Not the go-live, which was no longer my problem, but the sale of our database to the man named Hackett, my mystery competitor and Ulugbek’s backer. Our database was the last piece in True Enough LLC’s puzzle, which launched to much fanfare a week later, perfectly catching the market like a well-tacked sail as the truth rate slouched—like Tony Iommi’s E string—toward zero.
Hackett had gathered every piece of fact-like information that wasn’t nailed down, along with a rogue’s gallery of formerly reputable brands. Their names, their logos, their urls. He was already beginning to recombine them to create content that people would accept as true in the new world he had described to Lou Reed’s Nephew and me, a world in which the account executives and sales engineers of Atlanta would be told that they were history’s revolutionaries and we would all learn that there are things far worse than fakers.
We met in Hackett’s lawyer’s office. Hackett, our two lawyers, with Ulugbek on speaker. Hackett was not so formal this time. He wore the quarter-zip sweater of the Silicon Valley investor and his hair, no longer damp, had grown out on the sides. Ulugbek’s high, whiny tones pierced my image of him each time he spoke, like the last three years had been a dream. Lou Reed’s Nephew wasn’t there, but I thought about him the whole time.
I wasn’t sure who had introduced who to whom—did Lou Reed’s Nephew introduce Hackett to Ulugbek, or the other way around?—though it hardly mattered in the end.
Circumstances had conspired to resurrect me from my upholstered grave, and I was glad. Renata was glad, too. She forgave me easily for how closely I had steered our life toward disaster. (Once I delivered the correct share of the proceeds to her brother.) She was sweet to say I had been too hard on myself and that I should have said something sooner. We planned another vacation.
I was preoccupied with how Lou Reed’s Nephew would react to the news of Lou Reed’s death. I thought about it through the entire closing. Afterward, I planned to visit my cube for the last time. I worried that he would be there and that he wouldn’t be. It would be strange to not have one last conversation, to formally close the chapter of my life for which he had served as the chorus. Would he even be himself? Or would he treat his uncle’s passing it as blithely as he treated everything else?
Elsewhere it was treated like the closing of the last rock club on Earth. Only five hundred people bought The Velvet Underground’s first album, the articles all said—a modern proverb as uncheckable as it is unchecked—but they all started bands. It was those bands that taught my generation of typist’s sons how to live. The Jesus and Mary Chain. The Smiths. The Pixies. Hundreds of others. Go downtown. Take drugs. Take pictures of garbage. Rebel against the suburbs, which (though we couldn’t believe it) our accountant fathers had built exclusively for our benefit. The fit wasn’t perfect, but they fit us better than anyone. There were a lot of people who would’ve loved the privilege of opting out of their terrible comfort.
Once the triumph of World War II and the failed revolutions of the ’60s had run their course and exposed their inevitable contradictions, it seemed like the only way out. Detach from everything, even satisfaction. Lou Reed embodied this escape with his dark glasses and dark moods. Sandwiched between two prescriptive generations, he smuggled this strategy of refusal to us, the children of the Reagan Era. Two generations before us stated, clearly and loudly, their intentions, only to see them collapse into compromise. The only safe path after that—and after whatever happened behind closed doors at the Reed house in Freeport and in the darkened therapy rooms at Creedmoor—was to keep our dreams hidden, even from ourselves.
History hadn’t ended. We—the generation between Lou Reed and Lou Reed’s Nephew—had simply cut off contact with it. We converged on the cities with our mutilated tragi, thrilled by the spectacle of artists and billionaires struggling against one another in a battle that created as it destroyed. Now we could be seen carrying neon Tupperware to and from work to get two free toppings on our salads. Capers, and maybe some nice carrots.
It had been an illustrious failure, our generation, a futile attempt to pause history—to tell snark from smarm, as if it really mattered, ignoring evil entirely—now resumed in a struggle between messianic generations on either side. If asked what we did to prevent it—and don’t worry, we won’t be—we will have no defense but to say we tried, and failed, not to make everything worse.
Lou Reed’s Nephew was already there, working away in the cube across from mine. Margaux was there, too, her laptop propped on her knees beneath her lovely fingers. Antigone sat on the table between them. They were like a little family.
“What are you working on?” I asked. I hoped he had already heard—how could he not have? I didn’t want to be the one to tell him.
“Queries,” he said. I didn’t know whether he was pitching articles or programming. He could be doing anything.
“So, I guess you heard?” I said, proceeding carefully.
“Heard what?” he said without looking up.
My hands turned cold.
“About your uncle,” I said.
After a long pause, he replied.
“I don’t have an uncle,” he said quietly. “No aunts, either. My parents are both only children.”
“But I thought …”
“I mean,” he said, rolling himself back from his desk and basking in the fluorescent lighting as though it were a sunset. “That would be like Jesus actually having a son.”
He rolled his head and looked at me.
“That would be ridiculous,” I said.
“Yes,” he agreed. “Absurd.”
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