A biography of legendary rocker Lou Reed (1942-2013).
There is no shortage of biographies testifying to Reed’s importance as the godfather of punk and progenitor of art rock. Even before his death, his place in the rock-’n’-roll pantheon was uncontested as a founding member of the Velvet Underground, and his life had become the subject of mythic archetype for his transgressive lyrics, blend of pop stylings with avant-garde aesthetics, and hard-living lifestyle. Journalist Levy’s narrative of Reed’s life and work—touted as the first since his death—confirms these honors. But the most useful aspect of Levy’s study is his ability to separate Reed the rocker from Reed the person. Reed’s reputation and legacy as one of the pioneers and innovators of rock are unquestioned, but the author also showcases his irascible, confrontational, and often cruel personality, which complicated his cult of personality. Driven by the emergence of bohemian and Beat cultures in the 1950s, Reed devoted himself to a contrarian, anti-bourgeois lifestyle that alienated friends and lovers, sabotaged professional relationships, and fueled a self-destructive lifestyle. Guided by his literary mentor Delmore Schwartz, Reed began his musical career as a songwriter at Pickwick Records, where he began writing one of his early masterpieces, “Heroin.” He also made connections with like-minded musician John Cale and artist Andy Warhol, who formed the artistic core of the Velvet Underground. As frontman, Reed ushered in a new style of cacophonous, uninhibited, and gritty urban realism in songwriting. The details of Reed’s ascendance, fall, and comeback as a solo artist are so vital and culturally significant they read like a Hollywood script, and Levy ably captures it. Few artists, let alone musicians, have had a more fruitful yet tempestuous creative life, the results of which forever changed perceptions of popular music and art.
A valuable study of Reed, further cementing his totemic influence as the high priest of art rock.