Walk on the Wilder Side



Lou Reed: A Life

Anthony DeCurtis (Little, Brown and Company)

Lou Reed has to be one of the most audacious and iconic rockers to have committed his dark muses to his music and poetry. And writer/professor Anthony DeCurtis's new must-read bio of Mr. Reed perfectly captures the ethos of this misanthropic rocker. Let's be clear, Lou's outrageous life story is truly stranger than fiction. But then again, so are many of our most celebrated artists, especially those who not only create but also live on the edge/fringe of society, pushing their artistic vision on, for the most part, a rather pedestrian audience.

From Lou's humble middle-class upbringing on Long Island that included his life altering electro-shock treatments to his dying breath, his life was filled with passion and for pushing people, fans and critics alike, to explore the darker side of life; to if not to "walk on the wild side," at least explore it. Make no mistake, Lou's work was groundbreaking. His art-rock band The Velvet Underground remains one of the most influential bands ever. The music is timeless, the subject matter startling and disturbing; it's easy to understand why many consider them the true originators of the entire alt-rock genre.

Mr. DeCurtis was one of the few critics that Lou actually respected. To his credit, he's dug deep. He's interviewed Lou's childhood friends, past lovers and wives, former managers, many of the musicians he played with, et al. In doing so, he exposes how Lou operated -- how he created his music, how he lived his life, who he deeply loved, and how he maintained his artistic vision until his final days. Most Lou fans know of his relationship with his Syracuse University mentor and creative writing professor Delmore Schwartz, but who knew that Lou had pet dachshunds? That he loved doo wop music. Or that he was a hopeless romantic and, even at his worst social behaviour, longed to maintain a sense of "home" life with a "wife" when he wasn't on stage. I didni't know that Lou's cherished transsexual lover Rachel was referred to as "Lou's babysitter" by those close to him.

Long Island lawyer Alan Hyman, one of his oldest friends and the drummer in his college band L.A. and the Eldorados, states, "One of the things about my relationship with him is that he liked to shock me. He really liked to say provocative things and see what my reaction would be." That would certainly define Lou for the rest of his days. Five decades earlier, songs such as "Heroin," "Waiting for My Man," or "Walk on the Wild Side" were obviousily shocking when they were released. And yet five decades later, those lyrics and music can still produce strong reactions. In fact, few rock bands today are this bold and dynamic. In today's sanitized PC culture, one would have to look at rap music to witness such brutal honesty. 

Lou Reed had a very "rich" life, and Mr. DeCurtis shares just how remarkably rich it was.