1942-1995 Sterling Morrison was a founder and guitarist in the Velvet
Underground, a group long championed by Andy Warhol and one of the most
influential New York rock bands. This article, written by Lou Reed, is taken from the The New York Times Magazine, December 31, 1995, p. 21
Sterling said the cancer was like leaves in the fall, a perfect
Morrison description; he loved the English language. When asked if he
had a guitar to play, he said yes, he did, but he had watched seven--
he'd counted-- seven layers of skin peel from his body, and that had
made guitar playing and quite a few other things painful. This eye for
detail was very much Sterling. In fact, it saved my life once. We were
playing in an airplane hangar in Los Angeles in 1966. This was two years
after we'd got out of college, where we'd first met, student friends and
musician buddies. I was standing near a microphone when I heard Sterl
call gently but firmly, "Don't move." I turned my head just in time to
see smoke, one of my guitar strings vaporized by the ungrounded
microphone it had just touched. I would have been ashes.
I arrived at his house by train from the city with depressing
thoughts in my head and not one decent suggestion. I was struck by how
big he was. Perhaps that was accentuated by the extreme gauntness of his
once-muscular physique. He was bald with nothing but skin over bone. But
his eyes. His eyes were as alert and clear as any eyes I've seen in this
world. Not once did he complain. We spoke of music and old band mates.
We talked baseball. We never spoke of what was going on.
Maureen, old friend and Velvet drummer, and Sterling's wife, Martha,
had gone downstairs. Sterl lay in bed, seeming to drift off, and I
wondered if I should leave. I walked to the side of the bed to say
goodbye when he suddently stuck his hand out. "Help me up," he said. He
was strong despite the illness, but then he'd always been the strongest
one. When he had played his passionate solos, I had always seen him as a
mythic Irish hero, flames shooting from his nostrils. We sat like that,
him upright in bed, me sitting with my back to an open window, holding
his hand. And all the questions I had were answered and all the past
differences resolved. And in the extraordinary moments when men
transcend their bodies and words are spoken at their own peril, in those
moments that move beyond speech and picture, in these moments that only
an artist can capture, I saw my friend Sterling: Sterl, the great
guitar-playing, tug-boat-captaining, PhD.-ing professor, raconteur
supreme, argumenatative, funny, brilliant; Sterl as the architect of
this monumental effort, possessor of astonishing bravery and dignity.
The warrior heart of the Velvet Underground.
I missed the train back to New York and sat on the cement pavement
waiting for another. I very badly wanted a cigarette and a drink. My
God, I thought, We'll never play guitar together again. No more Nico. No
more Andy. No more Sterl.
On the day of the Mass, I was in Cleveland playing rock-and-roll, my
answer to every crisis. As the chords to "Sweet Jane swelled up, I hoped
somehow my friend heard them and got a laugh. After all, he was the
first one who heard the song the night I wrote it, more than 25 years
ago, in the summer, before the leaves fell in the fall.