In New Lou Reed Book, Lars Ulrich Says Metallica’s ‘Lulu’ Has ‘Aged Extremely Well’
"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. 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."
Those words from Lou Reed hung proudly at The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts during the recent exhibit, Lou Reed: Caught Between the Twisted Stars, and in many ways, those words serve as the foundation for Reed's posthumous book, The Art of the Straight Line: My Tai Chi, out now via HarperOne.
The book—a beautiful blend of memoir, interviews, instruction manual, and personal writings—is more than Reed simply sharing his love for Tai Chi. As revealed in the opening pages, Reed once said, "I wish I could convince you to change your life and save your body and soul. I know it sounds too good. But truly: Tai Chi—why not?"
That desire to see his passion for Tai Chi absorbed and embodied by others saturates the pages of The Art of the Straight Line, and it's also conveyed by many of his friends and peers.
There are more than 80 interviews featured throughout the book, ranging from fellow Tai Chi students of Master Ren Guangyi to music producers and many, many others.
Magician and "Velvet Underground and Lou Reed fanatic" Penn Jillette shared the beautiful story of when he first met Reed; Iggy Pop—"longtime Chi gong practitioner"—was interviewed by Reed's wife, Laurie Anderson, as well as fellow editors of the book Stephan Berwick and Scott Richman, and talked about the similarities between Tai Chi and Chi gong; and guitarist Chuck Hammer explained how he might have given Reed his first-ever brush with Tai Chi in the late-'70s.
Each and every story is full of beauty and truth and all share a common reverence for Reed's body of work; not just his music, but his commitment to Tai Chi. In The Art of the Straight Line, there is rarely a distinction between the two.
Lou Reed, Tai Chi and Metallica
There is no question that Lulu may be one of the most misunderstood and maligned records of the last 15 years. In Metallica: The $24.95 Book, Ben Apatoff agreed that Lulu often did not receive a fair assessment from fans and critics alike.
"Long after most of their thrash metal and rock peers settled into careers rehashing their early glories, Metallica and Lou Reed made a record unlike anything attempted in music before," Apatoff wrote. "And yet, it’s not such a strange pairing, two of music’s greatest shapeshifters, moving swift with all senses clean."
While celebrating the practice of Tai Chi and Reed's incredible commitment to it, there are a few interviews in Reed's book that also unpack some of the mysteries of this shapeshifting album known as Lulu.
"We had a chance to get to a creative place we'd never been, and the lyrics inspired that," Lars Ulrich remarked in The Art of the Straight Line about working with Reed on Lulu. "Lou took us out of our comfort zone. The lyrics were angry, spiteful, awkward, and beautiful, and all made sense. It was a cohesive work that had almost every human emotion."
During the recording of Lulu, Ulrich became even more connected to the power of Reed's words through his Tai Chi.
"The one thing that was so beautiful about him," Ulrich said, "he never tried to apologize or excuse all the different things that lived inside him. I don't think I've ever met a person that was so unapologetic for what he was saying and how he was ... Tai Chi was a part of that, and I think it all fits together very well."
Darren Aronofsky said as much when he talked about directing the music video for Lulu's "The View."
"[When we were filming], Lou started to cry," Aronofsky said. "You look at the video, he's actually weeping. I don't know what it was about. I think it was the material that was getting to him and it was a pretty intense moment to be a part of."
Kirk Hammett also shared some of his experiences with Reed during the making of Lulu, saying Reed "taught me how to be in the moment and trust my instincts as an artist," something Hammett wasn't used to with Metallica.
"On Lulu...I would say nearly 90 percent of what I did on guitar was done that way. In the past, I would have worked something out for three months before getting into the studio. It changed the way I approached my work."
For Hammett—an avid yoga practitioner—he also felt more connected to Reed's Tai Chi than his bandmates did.
"Lou used to go off in the middle of the day when we were in the studio, and we didn't know where he went," Hammett recalled. "I went out one day to get some air and to meditate, and I found Lou outside doing his moves and forms with a sword. When you think of Lou, you don't think of Fred Astaire or someone. But he was so graceful."
The Practice of Tai Chi, The Aging of Lulu
Early on in The Art of the Straight Line, Reed described Tai Chi as "some kind of physical unity to the universe itself." He didn't want to come across as overly mystical, "but something does happen to you when you practice this ancient art ... it makes the outside sounds into a more musical environment."
While they were recording Lulu, it seemed that Ulrich held even more respect for Reed because of the way he practiced the ancient art of Tai Chi. "I never was fully immersed in it with him," Ulrich admitted. "Like with his guitar setup, I tried my best to stay out of the way."
Whether it's his Tai Chi or guitar setup, it's clear that Ulrich understood and deeply revered the musical environment that surrounded Reed—an environment that was captured on Lulu. In the midst of sharing memories of making the album with Reed, Ulrich took the opportunity to defend the album they created together:
What the fuck is it about Lulu that it got that kind of reaction? I can't quite figure it out, but years later, it's aged extremely well. It sounds like a motherfucker still. So I can only put the reaction down to ignorance ... It took our fans to a place I wish they would go more often. Maybe it would be a better time to release it now with what's going on outside in the world, the chaos. I don't know, but I am very proud of this record ... James [Hetfield] and I would be figuring out ways through a piece of music and then Lou would look over and go, 'That's it. I'm not doing another fucking take of that.' That's not the way we usually worked, but it was so beautiful and great, the whole thing.