TRANSFORMER: The Lou Reed Story by Victor Bockris

TRANSFORMER: The Lou Reed Story

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A slovenly, vicious biography of singer/guitarist/songwriter Reed, whose brilliant '60s work with the Velvet Underground and solo career merit more sensitive scrutiny. Andy Warhol junkies will be familiar with the first part of the story, which has been told more skillfully elsewhere: Reed grew up on Long Island, studied at Syracuse University with poet Delmore Schwartz, worked briefly as a contract songwriter for a cheesy record company, and in 1965 fell in with John Cale, Maureen Tucker, and fellow Syracuse alumnus Sterling Morrison to form the trailblazing Velvet Underground. Warhol's patronage brought the Velvets notoriety, but they sold few records, and Reed left the band in 1970. His subsequent solo output has ranged from the sublime to the inexplicable (Metal Machine Music was an hour of white noise); his songs have documented his fluctuating sexuality and drug use and his apparent straightening out on both counts. Bockris (Keith Richards, 1992, etc.) opens luridly with an account of Reed receiving shock treatments at age 17 to cure him of homosexual tendencies, but Reed's psyche eludes him; Bockris repeatedly refers to an obviously flippant (unsourced) comment by Reed that he had eight personalities as if it were a psychiatric diagnosis. Reed is portrayed as unrelentingly cruel and selfish, tormenting his family, friends, bandmates, and romantic partners. In Bockris's eagerness to quote enemies and bad reviews, he omits basic facts. (His source list says his own book about the Velvets was ""indispensable""; Reed did not speak to him for this book.) And Bockris is no prose stylist: ""Now, at the end of the troubled, trembling 1993, he had plummeted from being one of the--if not the--most venerated, for all of the right reasons, figures in his field to coming across like a small-minded wart."" Bockris's animosity and prurience produce no insights into either the man or his music.

Pub Date: Aug. 1st, 1995
Page count: 400pp
Publisher: Simon & Schuster