The New, Happier Lou Reed

I gave up speaking to journalists. They are a species of foul vermin.
- Lou Reed

Thanks, Lou. We love you too.

We loves you when you’re good. We loves you when you’re bad.

We love you when you trash other rock icons as you do in the following statement: “Dylan gets on my nerves. If you were at a party with him, I think you’d tell him to shut up.”

And we love you when, some 20 years later, you do an about face and say that you “always go out and get the latest Dylan album. [He] can turn a phrase, man.”

VU and Beyond

But what we really love about Lou Reed is the amazing breadth of his work. Co-founder and main creative force behind the legendary Velvet Underground, Reed has managed to defy all odds during his protracted career. Just surviving through an upbringing that included electric-shock therapy, and a rise to fame that included addictions to heroin and alcohol, are impressive feats by themselves. But, moreover, Reed has managed to retain his creative spark, reaching new heights in his popularity in recent years.

In the Velvet Underground, Reed scored with such classics as “Sweet Jane,” “Heroin,” “White Light/White Heat,” “Waiting for the Man” and “Rock n’ Roll.” Later, as a solo artist, he penned “Walk on the Wild Side,” his biggest hit to date.

The Old Lou

Born in Brooklyn on March 2, 1942, Reed co-founded the Velvet Underground with John Cale in the mid-sixties. The band’s first album -- with the famous banana peel cover -- was designed and supposedly produced by Andy Warhol, although it’s generally assumed that Warhol’s production duties on the record were somewhat limited. Although the Velvets never attained superstar status, they remain one of the most influential bands on rock music today.

It is during this earlier period in Reed’s career that he delivered the lion’s share of his barbed-tongued statements. One classic diatribe was aimed at the Bay-area rock movement which had been rapidly gaining momentum during the late sixties. “People like Jefferson Airplane, Grateful Dead,” he said, “are the most untalented bores that ever came up. Just look at them physically. I mean, can you take Grace Slick seriously?”

About his entourage, Reed commented, “Who can you talk to on the road? Long-haired dirty drug people wherever you look. The boy passes over a bag of green powder and passes out. Don’t take that, it has horse tranquilizer in it. Oh, I shot up to your song. Oh, please bless me and touch me and make it all go away.”

The New Lou

But the years have mellowed Lou Reed as they do even the hardest members of the human race. He now seems light years from the caustic persona characterized by the aforementioned quotes.

The new Lou has managed to cultivate the look and locution of a serious academic, as far as it is possible when one is a working rock star. He has a continuing friendship with Czech leader Vaclav Havel and often devotes his energies to humanitarian causes such as Amnesty International. Reed has found his way into literary circles, having had a book of his lyrics, Between Thought and Expression, published a few years back and quite recently contributing an article to the New Yorker, in which he pretty much chronicles the back problems of an aging rock star.

Reed has surprised many by making it through to the other side alive after reigning so high for so long on the top of the next-rock-star-to-go list. “They wanted me to OD,” he claims. “They even expected me to do it with my own dope.”

But Lou Reed has not gone gently into that good night. Instead, he remains a creative force to be reckoned with, currently enjoying perhaps the highest level of popularity and recognition in his career. He is embraced by critics and fans alike and, with the help of an Olympic trainer, is showing great signs of improvement with his back-related problems. By the way, Lou’s real name is Louis Butch Firbank -- just thought you might like to know.

September 1996

More Lou Reed on NY Rock:
Interview with Lou Reed (Oct '98)
Lou Live in Concert at The Knitting Factory, NYC (Feb '97)

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