There has always been a fascination with Lou Reed. He may have been a rock and roll icon but the singer was far more than the whiskey and heroin stained stereotype that people like to portray. When one scratches the surface, a far more intricate character appears.
Below we’re bringing you the perfect tools to digs little deeper with a selection of the best books about the unimitable, Lou Reed.
From his former days as the frontman of The Velvet Underground through to his commercial breakthrough with Transformer, Reed’s personality was always intricate, yet a casual dickhead. He rose to the subtle position of acting as an outsider; aloof, complex and cultured. He would leave this world as a music legend.
Though fans may delve into the lives of public figures and celebrities through autobiographies, biographies or textbooks, it’s always been a bit harder with the ‘Walk on the Wild Side’ singer. Reed never wrote anything about himself, he never completed a memoir, he also never shared anything personal with the media. He never gave a damn.
There are quite few biographies about Reed, but here it we look at the best and brightest of the bunch. This selection offers a range of different viewpoints on the man who gave us ‘Pale Blue Eyes’ and ‘Walk on the Wild Side.’
The 6 best books about Lou Reed
Transformer: The Lou Reed Story, by Victor Bockris
Victor Bockris shares this acclaimed biography of Lou Reed, going from decade to decade of Reed’s rollercoaster success, sharing the various terrains of Reed’s life in music. From the rise of the Velvet Underground in the 1960s to Reed’s touring with David Bowie and Marc Bolan or Reed’s massive genre switch with his artistically acclaimed album Metal Machine Music. (Fun fact: Lou Reed punched Bowie in the face during a late-night meeting once Bowie also co-produced Transformer), an amplification of the many antics attributed to the VU man. Bockris tries to convey Reed as an innovator and lyricist among other greats like Bob Dylan and Neil Young.
Also, do not get this confused with Ezra Furman’s 33 ½ Transformer, that is also about Lou Reed.
Lou Reed: Between the Lines, by Michael Wrenn
Between the Lines, is in the format of self-critique with words of Reed to dissect and portray who the VU man is: musician, lyricist, and poet. Wrenn’s book isn’t for the casual fan but more something for the curious. It looks at Reed’s work with both the lyrics and composition of the singles that have seen him become a figurehead of music.
Take ‘Walk on the Wild Side’, for example, the track, as we all know, was about drag queens and New York’s underbelly, but with clever wording, it would be played on radio stations, seemingly skimming past the censors. It remains Reed’s only billboard hit, but would it have got there without his intelligence?
This is the book for dissecting Lou Reed’s music.
Notes from the Velvet Underground: The Life of Lou Reed, by Howard Sounes
For this depiction of Lou Reed, Sounes interviewed around 140 people in relevance to Reed. Speaking with family members, bandmates, lovers, wives, etc., means the direction for this book draws more of the darkness out of Lou Reed.
Notes from the Velvet Underground: The Life of Lou Reed, The book’s subject matter would be clarified as a grumpy New Yorker (among countless adjectives) in regards to his behaviour, it means that despite his paramount of brilliance the reader is offered an unadulterated view of the man behind the music.
Waiting for the Man: The Life and Music of Lou Reed, by Jeremy Reed
This biography is a revitalisation of the complicated musician. The author, Jeremy Reed (no relation), does a tremendous job on critique and format, in regards to illustrating Lou Reed. From his early work with the Velvet Underground, through his drug addiction, his marriages, even the saddening moments that his parents placed him in electroshock therapy to “cure” him of his aggressive gay persona.
Waiting for the Man, is a recommendable choice since it not only offers a comprehensive view of a complex character but follows his work through the 90s and on until his death in 2013 from liver failure.
Lou Reed: A Life, by Anthony DeCurtis
A popular choice for a Lou Reed biography Lou Reed: A Life arrived in 2018. DeCurtis is a critic and a longtime friend of Reed, meaning we have a little bit of inside knowledge of the star on a more personal level.
When writing the book DeCurtis wanted to publish this biography, not to disguise Lou Reed with only the iconography that permeates his work today or focus solely on his talent but to share all the troubling side of Lou too. A focus on his marriages, dysfunctions with critics and record labels. However, he naturally allows the genius of Reed’s incredible songwriting to be the shining light of the pages.
Perfect Day: An Intimate Portrait of Life with Lou Reed, by Bettye Kronstad
Bettye Kronstad spent a lot of time with Lou Reed during the final years of The Velvet Underground up until his 1973 album Berlin. Kronstad published the memoir to share her account of the times she spent with Reed, from the toxicity of verbal abuse to the well-known portrayals of his drug addiction – all complimented by the fragility of his genius. Throughout her book, she expresses how Reed was an artistic genius and how their work together would lead him to stardom.
Kronstad’s Perfect Day is a great depiction of the turbulence of a relationship from a former lover, that just so happens to be a Rock and Roll Hall of Famer.