The friendship between Lou Reed and David Bowie is one of those moments of rock and roll which makes your heart feel warm and fuzzy. The pair were as inseparable creatively at many times in their career and each found comfort in the other.
Bowie would go on to produce Reed’s enigmatic solo record Transformer and Reed would go on to proclaim Bowie as one of the greatest musicians to ever live. In 1972, Bowie took his chance at a Royal Festival Hall concert in London to introduce Britain to Lou Reed and yet in turn cement himself as a legend.
“He was a master,” said Bowie upon hearing the news of the death of his ‘old friend’ Reed—and it’s hard to argue. With Velvet Underground and with his solo work, Reed demonstrated the kind of nuanced and notorious alt-pop music that would make Reed a kind of deity in the realm of records. Only matched by his friend and collaborator Bowie.
The pair met in 1971 as Bowie—not a huge star at this point by any stretch of the imagination—was introduced to Reed by Tony Zanetta, a character who would go on to become the manager of Bowie’s infamous ‘Diamond Dogs Tour’. Zanetta had caught Bowie’s eye when depicting Andy Warhol in the film Pork, he would also introduce Bowie to Warhol and Iggy Pop during this same week.
Zanetta once said in an interview: “They, I think, got along pretty well. Lou was the really smart-alecky, sarcastic New York guy. But I think he and David were pretty cautious of each other. It was almost like the beginning of a romance. They were kind of sizing each other up. Lou was on his best behaviour with David and then after dinner, we went to Max’s Kansas City.”
The duo famously hit it off and wanted to work together. Bowie, alongside Mick Ronson, would go on to produce the 1972 LP Transformer. The pair would continue as lifelong friends until Reed’s passing in 2013, though it wasn’t always smooth sailing. Reed famously hit Bowie in the face during a dinner argument in 1979 after Bowie suggested Reed clean up his act. Reed responded, fiercely: “Don’t you EVER say that to me! Don’t you EVER fucking say that to ME!”
But despite this infraction, the two were often found together whenever possible. They found comfort in one another’s understanding of their crazy lives. Reed even joined Bowie for his 50th birthday celebrations to play a very special cover of Velvet Underground’s ‘Waiting For The Man’ which Bowie continued to cover throughout his career.
But back to July 8th, 1972. Bowie was the headline act for the charity gig organised by the Friends of the Earth charity as part of their ‘Save The Whale’ concert. Having smashed through the incredible songs which had set out Bowie as his enigmatic alter-ego Ziggy Stardust, backed by the Spiders From Mars, he introduced Lou Reed to the British stage.
As the song ‘Moonage Daydream’ settles down, the legions of Ziggy fans baying for more rock and roll from another planet, Bowie said: “He’s still playing and he’s now in England and this is his very, very, very first appearance anywhere in England. Ladies and gentlemen: Lou Reed.”
The pair then launch into the cover of Velvet Underground’s ‘White Light/White Heat’, ‘I’m Waiting For The Man’, ‘Sweet Jane’, as well as a cover of ‘Suffragette City’. The concert introduced the country to Lou Reed just shortly before he would further cement his place with the seminal record, Transformer, which was released in November of that year.
Despite this introduction, the concert would actually go on to further cement Bowie as a star beyond all previous reckoning. Bowie was introduced by DJ Kenny Everett: “Here is the second greatest thing…next to God…David Bowie!” and he would not disappoint. The concert can be heard below, though the sound quality is low, and it’s quite hard to think of anyone at this time who could’ve been anywhere close to Bowie’s level.
We will leave you with a snippet of a review from the time which quite accurately shows the power of Bowie in 1972 and the impact this introduction this must’ve had for Lou Reed. “A Star is Born — When a shooting star is heading for the peak, there is usually one concert at which it’s possible to declare, ‘That’s it – he’s made it’,” Melody Maker wrote at the time. “For David Bowie, opportunity knocked loud and clear last Saturday at London’s Royal Festival Hall — and he left the stage a true 1972-style pop giant, clutching flowers from a girl who ran up and hugged and kissed him while a throng of fans milled around the stage. It was an exhilarating sight.”
Listen to the performance, below.