Metallica and Lou Reed’s 2011 collaborative album Lulu may have been panned by critics upon its initial release, but seeing two icons of music come together for the fun of it is nothing short of a fascinating spectacle. This footage of them rehearsing ‘White Light/White Heat’ before an appearance on Rockpalast is lasting evidence of the raw chemistry that Reed and Metallica enjoyed on a creative level.
The album, which is the final full-length studio recording project that Reed was involved in before his death in October 2013, arrived as a happy accident which began after the former Velvet Underground man played with Metallica at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame’s 25th Anniversary Concert. After enjoying their brief spell on stage together, the foundations for future collaborations have been solidified.
Lulu was based on the two “Lulu plays” by the legendary German playwright Frank Wedekind, the composition’s they created being largely focused on spoken word delivered by Reed over Metallica’s raucous sounds with backing vocals courtesy of James Hetfield.
Given their commitment to the project, the subsequent criticism that the record received would arrive as a painful blow to Reed, according to Metallica’s Lars Ulrich: “It was hard for him because he was so proud of that record,” he said in an interview with Pop in 2017. “He felt we had some sort of spiritual connection with him, and he kept talking about that, how we were finally the right band to back him up, how he’d been looking for decades for somebody with the power and so on. Then the record came out, and as you may know, some of the critics were not particularly… kind to this record… And he was, I mean, he was really hurt.”
He adds, “We’re pretty thick-skinned. We’ve been through ups and downs for years, and if we like something we’d done and we enjoy the experience, that’s what matters to us. But I think he was really saddened by the response to [Lulu] and I felt … it was weird. The roles changed at the end where I became almost more maternal to him, and had to like sort of comfort him through this very difficult month when the record came out and it just got fucking slammed.”
Performing on stage together acted as an escapism from the abuse that was getting hurtled towards the record and offered Reed momentary bliss during an incredibly difficult time a personal level as the criticism became crippling. As you can see from the rehearsal footage of Metallica and Reed performing Velvet Underground classic ‘White Light/White Heat’, nothing else mattered to him from the second he walked on stage.
Following his death in 2013, Reed was posthumously inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame for his solo work which saw his widow Laurie Anderson share the poignant words that David Bowie had said to her about the album after Reed’s passing. “One of [Reed’s] last projects was his album with Metallica,” she began. “And this was really challenging, and I have a hard time with it. There are many struggles and so much radiance. And after Lou’s death, David Bowie made a big point of saying to me, ‘Listen, this is Lou’s greatest work. This is his masterpiece. Just wait, it will be like [Reed’s 1973 album] Berlin. It will take everyone a while to catch up.’”
Bowie was on the money yet again, the combination of Reed and Metallica is often a forgotten chapter in the exceptional career of the former Velvet Underground man’s career but judging from this footage of the rehearsals, it is one that Reed dearly enjoyed.