Lou Reed is standing in front of a room full of Jews on Varick Street on a night that is unquestionably different from all other nights. “Exodus, movement of Jah people. Send us another brother Moses from across the Red Sea,” Reed intones with the cryptic, stentorian sermonizing of a downtown, denim-clad rocker-turned-street rabbi. The text, culled from Bob Marley’s “Exodus,” is a politically charged retelling of the biblical tale — Reed’s assigned passage for the star-studded March 19 Downtown Seder at City Winery — and his interpretation is anything but orthodox. “Move, move, move, move, move, move!” he rasps with a risible if unleavened air from the de facto bimah. “Park… or move.”
Now 71, the former Velvet Underground frontman and downtown prophet held the bibulous congregation, perhaps slightly hipper than the typical minyan, in rapt if compromised attention to receive the hard-earned wisdom of the “wise child” between their second and third glasses of wine. Or fourth or fifth, but at this Seder, who’s counting?
“Feel free to drink in any order,” City Winery impresario Michael Dorf stipulated before the first glass was tipped. “You are leaning as free men and women, leaning neither to the left nor to the right.”
At a Seder that was more deconstructionist than Reconstructionist, the other three children all betrayed a youthful innocence that mined the Haggadah for its symbolic depth. Performance artist Laurie Anderson, Reed’s wife, as the simple child, recited “The Dream Before,” a contemplation of the meaning of history. Rockapella founder Sean Altman, the rebellious child, performed a whimsically irreverent papal tribute penned by fictional Pope Antisemiticus titled “Blame the Jews,” as well as “My Phantom Foreskin,” a circumcision ballad. Cast against type as child who does not know how to ask, Philip Glass opted out of the interrogative mode in typical Zen fashion by tickling the ivories with his “Etude No. 10.” There are few reasons most Jews would consume the bread of affliction earlier than absolutely necessary; this was one of them.