Author, professor and music critic, Anthony DeCurtis, started contributing to Rolling Stone while living in Atlanta nearly 40 years ago. This month, he returns for a different role—performing “An Evening of Lou Reed” at East Atlanta Village's 529 on May 12 with the Andy Browne Troupe.
An Unlikely Pair
When local musician Andy Browne came across a video on Facebook of Anthony DeCurtis singing The Velvet Underground’s "I'm Waiting for the Man," it sparked an idea. He offered DeCurtis an irresistible invite back to his old stomping grounds for a full performance, a tribute to the late rock icon Lou Reed.
As veterans of Atlanta’s music scene, the two Reed fans ran in similar circles in the 1980s, when Browne was playing in a band called The Nightporters and DeCurtis was cutting his teeth as a journalist. They later reconnected through Facebook. Then, following the release of DeCurtis’ latest book release, “Lou Reed: A Life,” Browne invited the long-time critic to experience how it feels behind the microphone, with backup from the Andy Browne Troupe.
“It’s pretty unlikely, not because of Andy Browne, but the idea of me performing these songs,” DeCurtis said. “It’s been a kind of funny thing that’s developed as a result of my promoting [‘Lou Reed: A Life’] that came out in October.”
Browne said he was thrilled when DeCurtis accepted the offer to sing for this rare performance. “I have been reading Anthony’s interviews in Rolling Stone since [I was] about 15 years old," Browne said. To have his favorite rock journalist join him on stage? Browne said it’s a gift from the rock gods.
Why Lou Reed?
DeCurtis has a doctorate in American literature, has penned several books and reviewed countless artists. With a distinguished lecturer position at the University of Pennsylvania, he teaches classes like a seminar on the Beatles and has treated his students to guest appearances from the likes of Patterson Hood (of Drive-By Truckers) and Jeffrey Gaines. So, why did he chose Reed as the subject of his latest tome?
“I knew him. I’d written about him a lot. I’d interviewed him a half-dozen times or so. I’d been around him more than that,” DeCurtis said. “When he died, I think everyone was kind of shocked by the degree of response and to be honest with you, the person that would have been most shocked by was Lou Reed.”
Suddenly, DeCurtis felt fans coming into contact with the scope of Reed’s legacy. As lead singer and songwriter for the Velvet Underground and a renowned solo artist, DeCurtis credits Reed with creating the alternative rock genre. Indeed, Reed’s life journey was a radical one.
“He felt, I think, that he had kind of lost his audience,” DeCurtis said. “He took himself seriously as a musician. He was a major figure, but he was older and hadn’t made a record in a while.”
Still, DeCurtis felt he had something to say about him. The book offers readers a gritty and intimate look into the studio as the Velvet Underground recorded their groundbreaking work as well as revels in Reed's relationships with legends such as Andy Warhol, David Bowie, Laurie Anderson and more.
On Andy Browne
Following the 529 show, DeCurtis and Browne head to Athens on May 13 for an encore performance at Ciné. For concert-goers, DeCurtis said the performances will certainly be devoted to Reed, but won’t be Xeroxed versions of his songs. “We’re going to try to make them our own and try to make it, not a nostalgia bath but something that feels contemporary and fresh,” he said. “The Andy Browne Troupe is a pretty interesting group. They’re not a conventional rock band; they’ve got a kinds of jazz elements.”
According to Browne, the troupe has trombone, violin, bass, guitars, drums and percussion. “‘Sweet Jane’ appears somewhere in the set, and it’s well, heavenly,’ Browne added. “We love Lou Reed but realize we are not him. We do Lou, but we do him through the troupe.”
The set list also reflects some of DeCurtis’ personal tastes. “When I was putting together the set list, I found myself thinking like a critic,” DeCurtis said.
“I’m a little nervous about it,” he added. “There’s a kind of musicians revenge about this...This experience has deepened my respect—which was pretty high to begin with—for people who are willing to perform in any area. You’re really exposing yourself and it takes a kind of courage, and I’m having to muster that courage myself now.”
Atlanta Then and Now
It’s fitting that DeCurtis’ full performance debut is in Atlanta, as the city played a role in shaping his early career.
In 1979, DeCurtis moved from New York to teach at Emory University. Even after the one-year gig ended, he decided to stay—and was glad he did. It was the era of the B-52’s, REM, Pylon and the Swimming Pool Q’s. “It was a good place to start out writing about music,” he said. “I loved all of those bands, I was having a great time and got an opportunity to write about them in Rolling Stone.” He stayed until 1984, before returning to New York.
DeCurtis said he’s excited for his homecoming of sorts. “Every time I’ve gone back, obviously the town has changed a great deal, but I still have really fond memories of it,” he said. “Along with doing my performances, I’m very eager to knock around town a bit and see some of the old places I used to frequent and find out about some new ones.”
In addition to performing at 529, DeCurtis will be reading and signing copies of "Lou Reed: A Life" at A Cappella Books on May 12 at 2 pm. If you are unable to attend this event, you can still pre-order a signed copy.
Who knows? Maybe the trip will inspire his next act—as writer or performer.