Sterling Morrison - Tributes

Friends for Life

My fondest memories of Sterling come from the days when we carried out our assault on the sensibilities of teenage America with Moe and Lou in the band. There were great days and nights of rambunctious shenanigans, some of which were part of an ongoing tussle over who would play bass. I loved his bass playing as much as his guitar playing, but Sterling, not wishing to be known as the bass player, would always opt for hid favorite, the guitar. At this he excelled also, and whenever the story of the band is recounted Sterling will always loom large in the legend. But he also had another strange effect on me - one that took me back to my home in Wales, what I'd learn from my mother. It was the great value placed on the acquisition of knowledge. Whether he was innately gifted (which I suspect) or if it was the way he showed this from day to day - by his pride in his children Tommy and Mary Anne's progress or in a well-crafted guitar line - it was a clear signal of the intangible values of humanity.

People leave a trace not always visible, and Sterling continued to show this to me last Tuesday when I said my farewell to him. It was in the impressive dignity he showed as he struggled. He does it today in helping me understand his passing; and I consider myself very fortunate in having known him as a dear friend and companion and also at having been allowed the opportunity to tell him last week how much ha had meant to me over the years. He was a scholar and a gentleman of great resource and that is how I will remember him.

John Cale

Well I was up there (Poughkeepsie, N.Y.) the week before he died. When his wife told me he wasn't going to make it, I went up there and spent about five days with him. I took the train home on Wednesday - it's an overnight train. When I got home Thursday morning, I got a call that he had passed away in the night. So I came back the next day and spent a few days with his wife.

The whole thing was just so infuriating - it was ridiculous. I'd known Sterling since I was 11; he was my brother's friend. So he and his big, long legs have been at my house driving me crazy for 40 years, and he's the first peer of mine that has died and a very special one. I just have known him for so long, he was like my brother. It's just infuriating. He was so healthy and jogging and to see him waste away like that...

Moe Tucker (Rolling Stone Online)

Velvet Warrior

Sterling said the cancer was like leaves in the fall, a perfect Morrison description; he loved the English language. When I 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 undgrounded 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 suddenly 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 these 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, Ph.D.-ing professor, raconteur supreme, argumentative, 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 Sterl.

On the day of the Mass, I was in Cleveland playing rock-n-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.

Lou Reed (New York Times Magazine)

He had a prodigious memory and an ability to analyze a situation while he was in it, and he always argued from a rational perspective, rarely an emotional one. I remember him in bits and pieces, little still-life moments frozen among the long dreary grayness of life on the road.

Doug Yule (The Velvet Underground, Volume 5, courtesy of Sal Mercuri)

Created by Olivier Landemaine
Last modified: December 31, 1999