Old friends Vaclav Havel and Lou Reed re-unite on Prague stage

Lou Reed and Vaclav Havel, photo: CTK

Vaclav Havel and Lou Reed took part in an unusual event on Monday night, when they held an on-stage public conversation at Prague's Svandovo Divadlo theatre. The two first met in the heady days of 1990, when the former Velvet Underground front man interviewed the then freshly elected Czechoslovak president.

Lou Reed and Vaclav Havel,  photo: CTK
"President Havel was a hero of mine before I ever met him. I admire him as a writer, initially a writer but also as a real-life hero in a world that needs as many as possible."

At a joint news conference on Monday the respect between the two men was clearly mutual, with Vaclav Havel describing Lou Reed as a great musician and an excellent person; he added that he felt like he already knew the singer before they met. When the former president explained that after 1989 he had been too busy writing speeches to produce any literary work, Lou Reed - who himself has literary inclinations - said his friend was unique.

"Most presidents don't write their own speeches. I hope you know that. So when he says he did a lot of writing, writing his speeches on the weekend etceteras, etceteras...most politicians - I don't mean to insult you by calling you a politician - don't write their own speeches."

In 1990 Lou Reed's visit culminated in a now legendary night when he performed his songs with Czech musicians for whom the Velvet Underground had been a huge inspiration in the dissident days.

"It comes under the heading of extraordinary dream. I wouldn't have ever been able to imagine such a wonderful night as I had with President Havel when I was here the first time in the '90s."

One of the musicians backing Lou Reed then was Jan Machacek, the leader of the group Velvet Underground Revival. The visiting singer had high praise indeed for him and his band mates.

Vaclav Havel and Lou Reed,  photo: CTK
"He says that he felt like Sterling [Morrison] and Maureen Tucker were behind him and that he really liked it, and it was sort of an inspiration for this brief reunion tour of the Velvet Underground, which happened in '92 I believe."

Monday night's on-stage discussion in Prague was a rather different event, with Vaclav Havel and Lou Reed discussing everything from the writing process to their meeting at the White House. The musician made fun of some of the moderator's questions but seemed to enjoy himself, while the former president was in fine form, witty and looking relaxed. The night ended with Lou Reed, once again backed by the Velvet Underground Revival, playing the VU classic Sweet Jane.