Sunday 27th October will hereafter remain synonymous with intensity. England was given warnings of the largest storm since 1990 and another force of nature took a metaphorical train journey out of Southampton Station in New York City. The musician, poet and social commentator Lewis Allen Reed, or Lou Reed to the general populous, both venerated and detailed the city of his birth with a wry, caustic perspective and a playful amount of euphoria and dark humour. He befriended David Bowie, William S. Burroughs and Andy Warhol, but continued to chronicle the life, times and characters of The Big Apple until his death yesterday.
The Lou Reed cultural and artistic odyssey commences here on Brookdale Plaza where the current Brookdale University Hospital & Medical Center stands, Formerly known as the Beth-El Hospital. The subject of our tour arrived on a hospital bed on March 2nd 1942 to Toby (nee Futterman) and Sidney Joseph Reed, an accountant. His family was undoubtedly Jewish, but the young boychik always stated that rock and roll had the most influence over the course of his life. “My God is rock and roll. It's an obscure power that had change your life. The most important part of my religion is to play guitar.”
The young man was subjected to electro-convulsive therapy in order to try and stop his homosexual tendencies, but started to develop into a wordsmith by attending Syracuse University. The tour continues on 900 S Crouse Ave, the fifth most populous area in N.Y.C, where the university remains and where Reed studied journalism, film directing and creative writing. His ambitions included a wish “to bring the sensitivities of the novel to rock music” and to “write the Great American Novel in the form of a record album,” a matter that will later be discussed in regards to his key works. A yearning for writing flourished under the guidance of his friend and tutor Delmore Schwartz, a poet born in Brooklyn who sadly passed away in July 1966.
Simultaneously the young Reed became an in-house writer for Pickwick Records around 1964. After a short bus ride we are at the entrance to Rosamund Gifford Zoo at Burnet Park, which is still in Syracuse and where you can see more than 700 various types of animals including ostriches. Reed found minor success with the novelty song The Ostrich that was based on a popular dance and proclaimed the importance of, “putting its head onto its knees, then you take a step forward, then you turn to the right”. Pickwick also introduced Lou to an equally ambitious and driven man called John Cale, who originally hailed from Carmarthenshire in South west Wales.
Laughing Lou knew two friends from college, the late Sterling Morrison and Maureen Tucker, and the four started a band that became known as The Velvet Underground. They were active between 1964 and 1973, releasing five albums amidst different personnel. Their subject matter included chronicling the dark glamour of night-life appeal and meant that they were never a commercial proposition. They played an infamous gig at Max Kansas City in NYC, where perhaps you could see Reed's creation Mad Mary Williams. We have travelled to 701 Seventh Avenue just off Times Square where the Mayfair Studios used to be. The band worked on the hyper-cool The Velvet Underground & Nico album here, which featured the mysterious and stunning German chanteuse Nico.
White Light/White Heat and a self-titled third album was released with Reed's help, but Reed had benefited from the patronage of Warhol. Mid-town Manhattan is where Warhol's Factory used to be until 1984. The home of his artistic operations and a sanctuary for figures from the New York creative scene influenced the effervescent pop sheen of Reed's 1972 Transformer album, the second of his solo career. Warhol influenced the lyrics to Vicious by after telling Reed that he should write a song of that name and providing the visual image of being hit with a flower. The effort also included Walk On The Wild Side that featured the real-life figures of Joe Dallesandro, Holly Woodlawn, who sadly do not live in NYC anymore, and a man called, “Sugar Plum Fairy who came and hit the streets.”
The rest of the 1970s produced some more success for Reed with the ornate Berlin album and the sublime Coney Island Baby. A mischievous sense of humour was again revealed in the feedback drenched release Metal Machine Music, but personal issues meant that his recording output was sporadic until the early 1980s (the American Top 10 success of Sally Can't Dance mentioned someone who certainly wasn't doing The Ostrich dance). Reed then entered a number of organisations to help him maintain his health and was again writing about his home-city on the album New York that was released at the turn of the decade.
He continued to release albums in the 1990s including Magic & Loss, but gained some more exposure after appearing at his friend David Bowie's gig. The penultimate stop is here at Madison Square Gardens where David Bowie hosted a star-studded 50th birthday celebration. He was joined by Reed, a man he introduced on the night as “The King of New York,” and the two performed I'm Waiting For The Man. Perfect Day was adopted by the BBC in 1997 for Children In Need and was a chart-topping single in the United Kingdom. More praise was also gained in Reed's and VU's obvious influence on Placebo and The Raveonettes amongst others, with the latter being named after part of a lyric from Reed's penned Sister Ray. PJ Harvey's Songs From The City, Songs From The Sea featured the song The Whores Hustle And The Hustlers Whore, with references to a drug culture clearly indebted to Reed.
Our New York cultural and musical journey ends here on a peaceful morning in Southport, reflected partially in Reed's last entirely solo effort Hudson River Wind Meditations. This is where Reed ended a strong fight against a liver ailment yesterday, practising tai-chi until an hour before his death. Comfort can be derived from knowing that he was helped by a regime that he brought to public attention and let us hope that it can bring comfort to many more.