remembering lou reed and marcia wallace

So in 24 hours, two people who were hugely influential on my life have died.

I almost wrote “passed away” or “left us” because they feel more gentle, while “died” feels more raw, more uncompromising, more brutal, more … final. But that’s the way I feel this morning, so I’m leaving it. It’s an interesting example of how different words can mean the same thing but say it in distinctive ways.

I wasn’t into Velvet Underground when I was a kid, but I fucking loved Bowie. When I learned that there would probably not be a Bowie without Lou Reed, I dug into his catalog. I was in my early 20s, and mostly listening to punk and electronic music at the time. I fell in love with The Velvet underground, though, and it was very common for me to listen to Lords of Acid’s Lust, Tool’s Opiate, and the Velvets’ The Velvet Underground & Nico back to back to back.

I’ve written before about my introduction to The Simpsons when I was about 17 or maybe 18. Those first five season of the show, along with Ren and Stimpy, Beavis and Butthead, and MST3K basically created my sense of humor at a time when I was looking to cast off the trappings of youth and don the mantle of adulthood, not realizing that I was still very much a child.

I met Marcia Wallace once, briefly, when I worked with my friend Keith on his live talkshow in a theatre. She was kind and awesome and insanely funny. I never worked with her, but everyone I know who did just loved her. John Dimaggio positively adored her. The voiceover community is very small, much smaller than you’d think, but even within this tiny community there are a couple islands few people ever get to visit, and The Simpsons is one of them. Futurama was another, and it’s not surprising to me that they shared a few very talented performers.

I’m 41, and I have at least another 50 years ahead of me. Hell, by the time I’m an old man, science and medicine will probably done something to extend our lives even longer than that, but when two people who were so fundamental to my coming of age die, it makes me face my own mortality in a way that is a little more visceral than I’d like.

It seems like a lot of us who are in the creative community and in our 40s are hit pretty hard by Lou Reed’s death. By all accounts, he wasn’t the nicest person in the world, and one of those “don’t meet your heroes” kind of guys. But the music he created spoke to us at important times in our lives.

I was never part of the drug culture that Lou Reed wrote about, and I never had any interest in being part of it, but it was positively fascinating for me to read and hear about it from afar. His willingness to write plainly and honestly about being a junkie made me feel like he was saying to me, “Hey, kid, it’s okay to be a weird outsider. Let’s be weird outsiders together.”

I feel the same way about Kurt Cobain, for almost the exact same reason.

I think it’s kind of weird when people die and those of us who didn’t know them feel obligated to memorialize them, but here we are: Thank you, Marcia Wallace and Lou Reed, for being part of my life, even though you never knew you were.

17 thoughts on “remembering lou reed and marcia wallace”

  1. Sorry to hear about them both. I wasn’t as familiar with Marcia Wallace, but Lou Reed’s songs often find themselves playing in my head (I’m hearing the chords from Wild Side in my head as I write this). Farewell…

  2. I’m 61 and came to him only in my 30s when my wife, who is an avid fan, introduced me to his full slate of music, from the Velvet Underground on. I’d heard his stuff, but hadn’t really taken any notice until then. I also saw him in Washington DC on a tour behind Magic and Loss, and that just blew me. Even better than the record, and THAT blew me.

    Lou wasn’t as influential for me as some — I’m not a musician — but I am a writer and I recognized the artistry well enough. He was influential for a reason. What’s more, he lived his life fully on his terms. Could be a cranky bastard, but usually was right to be.

    My wife was in tears when she heard.

  3. I remember Marcia Wallace first from the original 70′s Bob Newhart show as his receptionist, numberous 70′s and early 80′s game shows like Match Game and then the Simpsons. I’m 48 and it makes me sad that the actors and actresses I grew up with are passing.

    1. Me too!!! I’m a year behind you, but I can totally relate to the sentiment. It’s hard losing these folks because it is like losing a part of ourselves. I am thankful for their courage to do what they did, which in turn helped shape my life. Rest easy friends, and may the afterlife be all we hope it to be.

  4. Beautiful as usual, Wil. I agree about the memorialization of those in pop culture that we are touched by. I don’t think you had to know someone in a personal way to be affected by their death. I always like to think, though, that when we who are still living speak lovingly about these folks, that they know and are touched. Thank you for sharing your lovely heart with us.

  5. I’m glad you left the word “died” in your first sentence. All the other ways people have of saying it leave me feeling fundamentally dishonest, as though I’m watching a kid covering his eyes at a scary movie. “Passed on,” “passed away,” “left us” . . . I think of them all as trying to wish away the central fact: someone is dead. They won’t be a bit less dead for anyone trying to find a prettier way to say it.

    The verb “die” is brutal, and uncompromising, and final. So is death itself brutal, and uncompromising, and final. And for me, at least, wrapping a hard fact in pretty words is like putting a moose in a sundress. It doesn’t work, and makes the moose unhappy as well. So I applaud you for using a straightforward word to say a straightforward thing.

  6. Well said. Very well said, actually.

    While I know very little of Lou Reed, I know that much of his music influenced much of the music I grew up listening to, including Bowie (though Bowie didn’t grow on me until I was in my teens in the mid-90s). Marcia Wallace, however, was in my life before I ever realized she was the voice of Edna Krabappel. I knew her from a movie in the 80s called Teen Witch. I just remembered that if I ever took theater in high school, I wanted my theater teacher to be like her (I was 9 years old at the time, what did I know?).

    It’s been a sad day in the entertainment industry.

  7. Facing mortality seems to be the theme for the day. Today, my husband and I attended the visitation for one of his cousins who had died at the age of 42 from cancer, weeks after his wife died suddenly from an embolism. Their four year old daughter will now be raised by his sister and her husband.

    I only knew Marcia Wallace from her work on the Simpsons, but it was still a surprise to see that she’d died.

    It’s interesting how death highlights how important it is to live life to the best of your ability, while still being as kind as possible to those who are suffering.

  8. I was never really a Lou Reed fan but he was part of the culture so I always knew of him. Marcia Wallace on the other hand was there in all the shows I seemed to watch at any given point in the 70′s and 80′s. She was one of those actors you just never forgot.

    While Marcia Wallace’s passing (sorry, I agree, died is rather harsh and I don’t feel like harsh today) hit me harder because I loved her so, Lou Reed’s still had some impact.

    I think it’s less because you know them (well, I didn’t as I’m sure most people didn’t…which always reminds me of that quote from Two Weeks Notice (don’t hate my choice of movies to remember, I liked the mismatched actors :) ) where Hugh Grant says “well that’s just silly. Have you met everyone on the planet?”.

    At least for me, the loss of those two bricks in the wall of culture we live (or have lived) in is a loss of that culture and more often than not a loss of a reminder of an element of our lives. I remember learning about memory and how environmental cues are a big part of memory. It’s why when you walk into a room and forget why you went there, going back where you were often re-triggers the memory. It’s also why you might be walking along and hear that song you used to play over and over as a kid and suddenly all those memories of things you loved back then come back.

    I admittedly get really sad during the Oscar’s In Memoriam segment because even though you know people get old and actors (despite what some do) get old as well, you sort of don’t expect them to die. You expect them to be there like a comfortable constant in a changing world.

    Again, my own take, but it always hurts. It makes you feel older. It makes you realize time marches on and, unlike the tragedy of someone younger passing for whatever reason, it’s something you’d expect if you really kept track of it all. It sometimes worries me because I think about actors that are coming along in years, when you check them out on IMDB and realize they’re 70, 80 or more. Yikes!

    I guess I just don’t want the show to end…I’m sure they wouldn’t either.

  9. I hadn’t heard about Marcia. Damn. Thanks for letting us know. She was a damn funny lady.

    When I heard about Lou yesterday, I cried off and on throughout the day. He was a huge part of my musical “growing-up” and I feel like I lost a friend or an irascible uncle.

  10. Don’t know Lou’s music as well (I’ve heard the must-hears, though), but I knew about something else which I’ve been sharing – Lou’s involvement with a mid-90′s indie film tribute to Brooklyn.

    So in the mid-90′s there was a film called SMOKE, which was based on a Paul Auster short story. It starred Harvey Keitel and William Hurt, and a few other familiar faces (I rewatched it again recently for the first time in years and realized Harold Perrineau was in it, as a teenager). When they were filming one scene, though, Harvey got to joking around with some of the extras and bit players, and they ended up improv-ing this whole little scene amongst themselves that had the whole crew cracking up. So Paul Auster and the director, Wayne Wang, had the idea that maybe if they just stayed on set for 3 more weeks they could try improv-ing this whole second movie. Some of the cast stayed on, they invited a slew of other people to come in with weird cameos and bits and schtick, and they ended up with a film called BLUE IN THE FACE. It is a LOT of fun – and totally improv’ed.

    But legend has it that they left a message for Lou Reed to play one of the parts (an extremely stoned guy trying to find a diner that serves Belgian waffles), but he never called them back in time – so they gave it to Lily Tomlin (a fantastic performance in and of itself). But then the next day Lou finally called them back; and when he heard that he’d missed out, he asked if there was anything ELSE he could do because it sounded fun. So Wayne Wang had him come in, and they put a camera on him and told him to just talk about whatever he wanted for as long as he wanted. Then they interspersed these little bits of Lou Reed stream-of-consciousness into the rest of the movie.

    Because Youtube is awesome, someone posted a clip of “all the Lou Reed Bits” here (the cuts aren’t quite expertly done, but I think that’s forgiveable). http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xduERw9BSns

  11. “Thank you, Marcia Wallace and Lou Reed, for being part of my life, even though you never knew you were.”

    This may not have occurred to you Wil, but I suspect a lot of people will feel the same way when you fail your final savings roll. I think that you may underestimate the number of lives you touch, from pet lovers, to geeks and nerds, and to hop heads.

  12. At least Lou and Marcia have left wonderful, enduring legacies that will inspire entire generations to unleash their inner light wherever they feel it should shine.

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