Friday, 2 March 2012

The past keeps knock knock knocking on my door

In honour of the great man's 70th birthday today, I here reprint in full a marvellous 1997 article on Lou Reed by Jane Appleby for Bambi fanzine. Full credit to the lady for a revealing examination of his life...

TRANSFORMER or fragments of the life of Lou Reed

Lewis Allan Reed was born in Brooklyn in 1942 to a Jewish middle class family. At the age of 17 he received electro-shock therapy three times a week to discourage his homosexuality.
"They put that thing down your throat so you don’t swallow your tongue and they put electrodes on your head. That’s what was recommended in Rockland County then to discourage homosexual feelings. The effect is that you lose your memory and become a vegetable. I wrote ‘Kill Your Sons’ about that."
In 1961 he went to Syracuse University to do a degree in English Lit. and Philosophy. One of his biggest influences was his teacher the writer and critic Delmore Schwartz. He also had his 1st gay love affair at university before graduating with honours. (He also had a long term affair with a woman who went on to inspire many of his songs such as ‘Pale Blue Eyes’.) He also met up with Sterling Morrison and continued playing in bands. Lou Reed considered studying journalism before opting for drama but he was asked to leave due to his involvement in narcotics. He evaded the draft and went to work for Pickwick records in 1964-65 writing pop songs. One of these songs ‘The Ostrich’ was wanted on TV and that was how Lou Reed came to hook up with John Cale who was impressed with his other songs like ‘Heroin’.

By November 1965 Mo Tucker had joined them and The Velvet Underground had performed in public for the first time. They came to the attention of Andy Warhol who introduced Nico who had affairs with first Lou Reed then John Cale. She performed with them and had several songs written for her. They completed their first album in August 1966 but it wasn’t released until March 1967. That year they dumped Nico and Warhol and signed up with a new manager releasing another album containing ‘Sister Ray’.

"It was built around this story that I wrote about this scene of total debauchery and decay. I like to think of Sister Ray as a transvestite smack dealer. The situation is bunch of drag queens taking some sailors home with them and shooting up on smack and having this orgy when the police appear."
In 1968 John Cale was ousted and replaced with Doug Yule. They began to record their 3rd album containing ‘Candy Says’ supposedly about Candy Darling. In 1970 Mo Tucker left to have a child and was replaced by Billy Yule. They recorded their 4th and final album. Lou Reed then left the band and moved back home to live with his parents even working as a secretary for the family business. (The Velvet Underground even carried on for a few years without him.) By 1971 Lou Reed was writing poetry and dating a girl named Betty Kronstadt. He was eventually persuaded to return to writing songs and released the album ‘Transformer’ in 1972. The cover featured a TV and a leather clad clone rumoured to be Lou Reed himself but in fact Ernie Thormahlen.

"There’s a lot of sexual ambiguity in the album and two outright gay songs - from me to them but carefully worded so the straights can miss out on the implications and enjoy them without being offended.

"The gay life at the moment isn’t that great. I wanted to write a song which made it terrific, something you’d enjoy.

"Just because you’re gay doesn’t mean you have to camp around in make-up. The make-up thing is just a style thing now. If people have homosexuality in them, it won’t necessarily involve make-up in the first place."

Lou Reed married Betty Kronstadt late 1972-early 1973.
"You can’t fake being gay. If they claim they’re gay, they’re going to have to make love in a gay style and most people aren’t capable of making that commitment. That line that everyone’s bisexual - I think that’s just meaningless."
He began work on ‘Berlin’ in 1973. When it was finished he separated from his wife after writing a song about her suicide attempt. The producer Bobby Ezrin also had a breakdown and had to be hospitalised after completing the record. Lou Reed’s divorce came through in autumn 1973. His behaviour began to deteriorate and then he met Rachel (transvestite/transsexual - nobody knows which).
"It was in a late night club in Greenwich Village. I’d been up for days as usual and everything was at that super-real, glowing stage. I walked in there and there was this amazing person, this incredible head, kind of vibrating out of it all. Rachel was wearing this amazing make-up and dress and was obviously in a different world to anyone else in the place. Eventually I spoke and she came home with me. I rapped for hours and hours, while Rachel just sat there looking at me saying nothing. At the time I was living with a girl, a crazy blonde lady and I kind of wanted us all three to live together but somehow it was too heavy for her. Rachel just stayed on and the girl moved out. Rachel was completely disinterested in who I was and what I did. Nothing could impress her. He’d hardly heard my music and didn’t like it all that much when he did.

Rachel knows how to do it for me. No one else ever did before. Rachel’s something else."

He recorded ‘Coney Island Baby’ which was all about how his new relationship had transformed his life even dedicating songs to Rachel. In July 1975 his tour was called off in New Zealand as Lou missed Rachel so much. He would spend hours on the phone to her, sleeping at night with the receiver off the hook and the call connected to New York so he could resume his conversation as soon as he awoke. Mick Rock photographed them for Penthouse - clad in matching black leather supported by pencil-thin legs, the couple embrace, Lou in front facing the camera with a dazed smile on his face while Rachel supports him from behind, her hands clasped possessively over his crotch, a look of serene composure in her eyes. In March 1977 they celebrated three years of friendship with a party cutting a three tier wedding cake emblazoned with a Valentine heart.
"All the albums I put out after this are going to be things I want to put out. No more bullshit, no more dyed hair, faggot junkie trip. I mimic me better than anyone else, so if everybody else is making money ripping me off, I figure maybe I better get in on it. Why not? I created Lou Reed. I have nothing even faintly in common with that guy but I can play him well - really well."
Lou Reed split up from Rachel in late 1977-early 1978. He stated that his album ‘Street Hassle’ was mainly about this breakup including the lines "Love has gone away / took the rings off my fingers / and there’s nothing left to say / but oh, how I need him baby."
"They’re not heterosexual concerns in that songs. I don’t make a deal of it but when I mention a pronoun, its gender is all important. At the end of ‘Street Hassle’ that person really exists. He did take the rings right off my fingers and I do miss him.

"I have such a heavy resentment thing because of all the prejudices against me being gay. How can anybody gay keep their sanity.

"I just wouldn’t want listeners to be under a false impression. I want them to know, if they’re liking a man, that it’s a gay one - from top to bottom.

"You want to know the real Lou Reed. Turn around. Now bend over."

Lou Reed married Sylvia Morales in 1980 after meeting her in a gay SM club. He continued to release his solo albums and towards the end of the 1980s he collaborated with John Cale on ‘Songs for ‘Drella’ - their tribute to Andy Warhol who died in 1987. The early 1990s saw a short-lived Velvets reunion and Lou Reed divorced Sylvia. He is currently dating Laurie Anderson and apparently refuses to discuss his past relationships particularly Rachel who is rumoured to have died around this time.

"You’ll never see those faces again / The past keeps knock knock knocking on my door / And I don’t want to hear it anymore" - Halloween Parade by Lou Reed

More about the Transformer album

Lou Reed (born 2nd March 1942)

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