Lou Reed Backs Embattled Clinton At White House Dinner

Velvet Underground founder performs at the request of #1 fan, Czech President Vaclav Havel.

Velvet Underground founder and pioneering avant-garde rocker Lou Reed came to the

defense of a beleaguered President Bill Clinton on Wednesday night during a special

White House visit, during which Reed played for the leader of the free world and called

the recent attack against him a "smear campaign."

During an unprecedented White House state dinner featuring a performance by a

politically outspoken rock star, Reed denounced the high-profile investigation of Clinton

by independent counsel Kenneth Starr and subsequent calls from Republicans for

Clinton's impeachment.

"I think what's being done to him is terrible," Reed said, according to Howie Klein,

president of Reed's Reprise Records label, who also attended the state function. "Your

private life should be your private life. I think it's a smear campaign."

At any other time, a White House performance by revolutionary punk-rocker Reed

likely would have sparked a fair amount of controversy. After all, it's not often the

executive office opens its doors to an artist who forged a career with musical tales of

heroin addiction, sadomasochism and the collapse of modern society.

Then again, with President Clinton mired in his own controversy, surrounding an

admitted sexual relationship with Monica Lewinsky, a former White House intern, Reed's

performance at a state dinner honoring Czech Republic President Vaclav Havel proved

something of a diversion from the recent scandal.

The founder of the hugely influential, avant-garde New York rock group the Velvet

Underground performed a 35-minute set, including his trademark


Jane" (RealAudio excerpt), at the request of his friend and fan Havel, who was

in Washington to lobby for the Czech Republic's inclusion in the North Atlantic Treaty

Organization. A renowned playwright whose works were once banned in his homeland,

Havel led the so-called "Velvet Revolution," named after his favorite rock group, which

toppled the Communist government of the former Czechoslovakia in 1989.

The first-ever state dinner featuring a rock performer also was attended by former Cars

leader Ric Ocasek, Reed's companion and avant-garde artist Laurie Anderson and R&B

legend Stevie Wonder. It also featured the unusual sight of Vice President Al Gore --

whose wife has been at the forefront of a movement to censor albums such as those by

Reed and his former band -- rocking out to the VU mastermind's music, according to


"The Vice President was totally rocking and even conservative Republican Senator

Richard Lugar of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee was smiling, tapping his toes

and bopping his silver hair to 'Dirty Blvd.,' " Klein said of the song from Reed's acclaimed

1989 album, New York, which features lines critical of government, such as "Give

me your hungry, your tired, your poor, I'll piss on 'em/ That's what the Statue of Bigotry

says/ Your poor huddled masses, let's club 'em to death/ and get it over with and just

dump 'em on the boulevard."

"The power of him playing that song in the White House was unbelievable," Klein said.

"To hear those lyrics so critical of the power structure -- even though I've heard it live and

on record 100 times -- was chilling."

Also included in the set were Reed's solo song "Riptide" and three songs from Reed's

collaboration "Time Rocker" with playwright Robert Wilson.

"The mood was very upbeat; you would have never thought any kind of scandal was

going on," Klein said. "The president and first lady [Hillary Rodham Clinton] were

dancing and having a great time and Lou got a standing ovation at the end of his set. It

was very different from the usual 'adult music' they'd have at these kinds of black-tie

events. Normally, it would be easy-listening jazz, and to have not just a rock 'n' roll

singer, but Lou Reed, was shocking."

Klein said the stern rocker wasn't on his best behavior, though. When approached

during a dress rehearsal by a protocol officer, who asked whether Reed could do

anything about the excessive volume of the drum kit, Klein said the singer "told him to

shut up, go away and leave him alone."

Joining Reed and his band onstage was Czech bassist Milan Hlavsa, a member of the

VU-influenced and highly acclaimed underground Czech group the Plastic People of the


Reed was not the only musician on hand who offered his support for the embattled

president, who has in the last week suffered calls by members of both the Democratic

and Republican parties to resign over allegations of perjury and other crimes related to

his relationship with Lewinsky.

"I told the president a long time ago that I was his friend and I am of the belief that when

you say you're someone's friend, it doesn't mean fair-weather friend," Stevie Wonder

was quoted as telling reporters. Also in attendance were actress Mia Farrow, author Kurt

Vonnegut and Henry Kissinger, who served as secretary of state under former President

Richard Nixon.

In the last decade, with albums such as New York, Reed has become particularly

outspoken in his political views. His last studio album, Set The Twilight Reeling

(1996), included the anti-right-wing rant "Sex With Your Parents Part II (Motherfucker)" (RealAudio excerpt),

which blasts conservative leaders such as Republican former Senator Bob Dole and

talk-radio host Rush Limbaugh.

The dinner was followed by an after-party at the official guest house, Blair House,

attended by Reed and his entourage at the invitation of Havel. "I asked Lou if he ever

expected to play the White House and he said, 'no way,' " Klein recalled, adding that

Reed expressed his hope that Clinton would stay in office despite the Lewinsky scandal.

"I think he's doing a good job," Reed was quoted as saying.