How Lou Reed taught me to play better golf

In this blog, originally published in March 2017, I recall Lou Reed telling me in an interview that he didn’t worry about what his songs meant. Otherwise, he might ‘interfere with the process’ of songwriting. Years later, I realized it was a great lesson for golf, writing and any kind of performance. Need a pick-me up during the lockdown? Listen to Rock ‘n’ Roll from Rock ‘n’ Roll Animal. 

I had the coolest job in the world. In my world, at least.

In 1986, I was the music critic for the Canadian Press news agency in Toronto. I was paid to listen to albums, go to concerts and interview rock stars, and write about it all. Among the folks I interviewed one-on-one were David Bowie, Robert Plant, Peter Gabriel and Joe Strummer.

Usually, I was pretty cool about meeting these people, but every once in a while I’d get nervous, not dissimilar to the feeling I get teeing it up in a club championship.

I don’t think Lou Reed ever played golf, but he gave me one of the greatest golf lessons of my life.

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I conducted the interview about 30 years ago, but I fully realized the gift of his wisdom—for golf, writing and frankly for my life—three years ago
when he passed away at age 71.

Part of my nervousness came from being a huge fan—an occupational hazard—but also Reed’s legendary disdain for journalists. He didn’t appear to care about fame or how people—and certainly critics—reacted to his music which often captured the underbelly of New York’s drug and sexual subculture in songs like Walk on the Wild Side and Heroin.

I invested my nervous energy into earnestly preparing and writing out all my questions. I studied his lyrics on Mistrial, the new album that he was promoting. I would be ready with intelligent, penetrating questions that would demonstrate that I was a smart, on-the-ball and certainly cool journalist.

I phoned the number provided for the interview. I quickly launched into my first brilliant question: Was Mistrial an attempt to set the record straight about him and his nefarious past now that he was 43, married and respectable enough to be used in an advertising campaign for a motorcycle brand.

“I don’t think about that.” Silence. 

Oh crap.

I jumped to my second penetratingly dazzling question, which was a just a variation on the first. “Is Mistrial a way of saying that we’ve misjudged you, and that we were distracted from the real Lou by the make-up, androgyny and heroin.”

“You know man, I don’t get into the meaning of all this.”

Oh my God.

I was near panic when—completely off my script— I blurted: “I love the sound of the guitars on this album.”

He responded with a sincere “thank you” and launched into an enthused explanation of how they recorded the guitars to get the distinctive sound, and we proceeded to have a relaxed and engaging conversation.

As time for the interview was winding up, Reed said, “Hey man, I know where you were going at the start, but I don’t try to get too much into the why of these things or I might stop the process. I find out about it later on, but if I went and interfered with the process, either I might not finish anything or I’d start leaving things out because I’d worry about what the songs mean.”

Now it was my turn to offer a sincere thank you, and we finished the interview.

When Reed died in 2013, I wrote an appreciation about him. In revisiting the memory of the interview, I came to more fully grasp what Reed meant about not interfering in the process—and the gift that he gave me.

Throughout my life, I have felt compelled to do everything right (a theme of e-zine #2 and the last Swing Thought podcast.). For things that I was passionate about, I would obsess, over-prepare and fixate, including in writing and most certainly golf.

Despite all my preparation and focus on doing things expertly, much of the time I was frustrated, tense and bottled up. And thus, I chronically failed to live up to my expectations. I was a classic paralysis-by-analysis basket case.

Reed’s nugget of wisdom was a milestone in my understanding of self-interference. He provided me with insight into how great performers lose themselves in the action of creation and performance. They allow rather than try.

When I find myself obsessing and trying hard—which I’m still prone to do—I’ll sometimes think of my Lou Reed moment, let go and take a walk on my wild side.

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About Tim O'Connor

Tim O'Connor is a golf coach, an award-winning writer, and speaker. Tim takes a holistic approach, coaching golfers in the physical and mental aspects of golf. He co-hosts the Swing Thoughts podcast with Howard Glassman, and is the author of The Feeling of Greatness: The Moe Norman Story. He plays bass in CID—a Guelph punk band!