September 16, 1998: Lou Reed Plays the White House

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Photographic evidence that Lou Reed (far right) did indeed play the White House

That’s right; you did not read that wrong, nor are you hallucinating. Onetime underground rocker, Lou Reed, who wrote such drug anthems as “Heroin” and “I’m Waiting for the Man,” performed a 30-minute set at a state dinner at the nation’s executive mansion on this day in 1998. It was at the special invitation of Czechoslovakian President Vaclav Havel, who was being hosted by President Bill Clinton and First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton, and is a Reed fan.

Havel – formerly a dissident Czech playwright who had been jailed for his political activities before taking office – credits Reed’s former band The Velvet Underground with helping to inspire his nation’s peaceful Velvet Revolution in 1989 that ended the repressive communist rule in his nation.

Reed did not let the august occasion restrain him. Among the songs he played was “Dirty Blvd.” from his 1989 album New York, which contains the line, “Give me your hungry, your tired, your poor, I’ll piss on ’em/ That’s what the Statue of Bigotry says.” Such guests as former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, author Kurt Vonnegut and fellow music stars Stevie Wonder and Ric Ocasek of the Cars and his model wife Paulina Porizkova all apparently enjoyed the occasion, as did the Clintons, and especially Vice President Al Gore, who reportedly was happily dancing in his seat throughout Reed’s performance.

Having Reed play was a bold move for President Clinton, who was embroiled in the Monica Lewinsky scandal at the time. Reed expressed his support for Clinton that evening. When asked later if he ever expected to play at the White House, the classic rock star replied, “No way.”

Related: Reed discusses his surprising 2011 collaboration

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