Lou Reed: A Life

Lou Reed: A Life
By Anthony DeCurtis
[Little Brown]

Author Anthony DeCurtis is almost (but not quite) on par with Robert Christgau in terms of analytical expertise, mastery of the language and critical gravitas. This is to say that Lou Reed: A Life is exceptionally well executed – but perhaps to a fault.

I mean, let’s face it: most people are a lot more interested in The Velvet Underground and Lou’s early solo work such as Transformer than they are in mid-career duds like Mistrial and Rock and Roll Heart. But the ever-nondiscriminatory DeCurtis grants all of Lou’s albums the same shrift. And therein lies the trouble.

Of course, Lou Reed: A Life develops chronologically. And this structure works really well for at least half the book. DeCurtis tells Lou’s story from point A to point Z, punctuated by song-by-song critiques of every album, correspondent with their respective eras. Yeah, I’m content to read wordy deconstructions of “Femme Fatale,” “There She Goes,” “Pale Blue Eyes” and “Vicious.” But does anybody really want to waste a lot of thought on (not) masterpieces like “I Wanna Be Black,” “Banging on My Drum,” “My Red Joystick,” “Sex With Your Parents,” “Average Guy” and “I Love Women”? I think not.

Yes, Lou was a genius. And he made some truly great music. But, lest we forget, by his mid-career, once he was fully convinced of his godhead status as a serious artiste, Lou lost his way time and time again, veering into better-left-unexplored territories that I, personally, don’t want to trod again in either sonic or textual forms.

The stuff about Lou’s personal life? Yeah, that’s what I really want. And, thankfully, DeCurtis’ book dishes plenty of dirt. This Lou Reed guy was a louche slut, a junkie creep and a mean-spirited, goddamn son of a bitch. Lou Reed: A Life is teeming with the sordid details of said debaucheries.

This brings us to the eternal vexation that is/was Lou Reed. How could such a vengeful, rotten bastard produce such tender and emotionally naked yet still tough-as-nails music? DeCurtis never exactly answers these questions and I’m glad of it. I mean, it’s not like he could. But DeCurtis can (and does) show Lou as the multifaceted bundle of contradictions that he was in an entertaining and astute way. As such, I’m finding a permanent space on my bookshelf for Lou Reed: A Life.