Anthony DeCurtis celebrates the life of a rock ’n’ roll animal
The author and the Andy Browne Troupe play the songs of Lou Reed
On Saturday, May 12, author Anthony DeCurtis teams up with the Andy Browne Troupe to pay homage to the late, great rock ’n’ roll animal, Lou Reed.
DeCurtis, author of Lou Reed: A Life, honors Reed’s musical legacy at A Cappella Books by reading from his 2017 biography, which is hailed by the New York Times Book Review as “the best [Lou Reed] biography to date.” Later that evening, DeCurtis will join the Andy Browne Troupe in singing songs from Lou Reed and the Velvet Underground’s catalog at 529. Browne, a singer, songwriter, and guitarist who also co-founded the 1980s punk band the Nightporters has a lot to celebrate. He recently released Elephants, the fourth in a series of albums inspired by the 19th century British teenager, Rossa Matilda Richter, best known by her stage name “Zazel,” the first human cannonball.
During their heyday in the 1980s, the Nightporters shared stages with the Clash, the Replacements, Jason & the Scorchers, RuPaul, R.E.M., and more, gaining local notoriety as the house band for the legendary Blue Rat art collective. At the same time, DeCurtis was a transplanted New Yorker teaching in the English department at Emory University. As a freelance writer, he contributed to Rolling Stone magazine and other publications including an Atlanta-based zine called MUZIK! Published and edited by Steve Hurlburt, featuring layout and graphics by J. Flournoy Holmes, who designed the Allman Brothers’ Eat A Peach album cover, MUZIK! gave several Atlanta writers a free-wheeling outlet for honing their fledgling chops.
“I felt like part of a thriving community,” DeCurtis says of his years spent living in Atlanta. “I remember once being so thrilled when Peter Buck commented on something I wrote for MUZIK! about the Brains.”
In 1984, faced with waning job prospects, DeCurtis returned to New York.
Three decades later, after a long and storied career, Lou Reed died. Over the years, DeCurtis, a seasoned editor, teacher, and author had developed a friendship with the temperamental artist which went beyond the usual performer-critic dynamic. When book publisher Little, Brown, and Co. approached him about writing a biography DeCurtis took on the project.
“While Lou was alive, I never would have done it,” DeCurtis says. “Once he was dead, I thought he deserved a big, serious biography.”
Browne also acknowledges Reed’s influence on his musical development. He also harbors a special affinity for David Bowie, who co-produced Reed’s second solo album, 1972’s Transformer, which includes the controversial single, “Walk on the Wild Side.”
Browne was born in Miami, but spent ages two through six in England where his father worked in the mortgage business. The family returned to the States in the mid-1970s.“On January 10, 2016, when I learned David Bowie died, my life changed,” says Browne. “I was deeply affected. It was like a death in the family.”
And the hits kept coming: Prince, Muhammad Ali, Chuck Berry. All of Browne's personal idols died that year, exacerbating his grief.
At the time, Browne lived in Pennsylvania, and was working on the songs which eventually became the Andy Browne Troupe’s debut album, Zazel Attacks.
He was also wrestling with personal issues, which prompted, among other changes, a move back to Atlanta where Zazel and its successors
“Putting out those albums saved me,” Browne says.
The 10 songs on Elephants are infused with cool blue scents of jazz, strains of steamy glam-rock, funky street grooves, and jagged punk and English beat. Emotional ruminations pervade the lyrics, which pay homage to the Bard himself in the song “Bob Dylan,” posit the notion that, contrary to assurances by the late James Brown, “It’s A Woman’s World,” and reckon hopefully on “Life After Bowie.”
For the Atlanta and Athens shows, DeCurtis is backed by the band that plays on Browne’s Elephants, featuring Shayne Perryman (trombone, bass, keyboards), Amanda Lee (violin, vocals), David Spencer (guitar, effects), and Browne (guitar), with guest appearances by Pito Monteguedo (drums), Greg D (guitar), Charles Barrow (bass), Debra Rodriguez (percussion, vocals), and Billy Fields (keyboards).
For the Lou Reed tribute project, the musicians have been rehearsing on Skype. Despite occasional buffering issues, the process has proven to be remarkably productive.
“It’s starting to feel like we really know each other,” Browne says. “We’re becoming a band.”
Anthony DeCurtis reads from and sign copies of Lou Reed: A Life at A Cappella Books on Sat., May 12. Free. 2 p.m. From 6-8 p.m., DeCurtis and the Andy Browne Troupe perform songs by Lou Reed and the Velvet Underground at 529. $10. On Sun., May 13, the show moves to Cine in Athens from 6-8 p.m. $10.