On this day in 1977, Lou Reed was the victim of categorisation. It would be a sore point throughout his career but on March 20th, Lou Reed proved to be too punk for the London Palladium.
By this time in the decade, Lou Reed had once again established himself as a leading figure of music. An undoubted inspiration to the glam rock movement, championed by David Bowie most prominently, Lou Reed was once again selling out venues across the continent.
While in 1977 the punk fires were continuing to rage on, most of the acts were blissfully unaware of the fuel Lou Reed and the Velvet Underground had thrown on the pit some ten years prior. But while some of the bands involved in the scene wouldn’t be able to pick Reed out of a line-up, somehow he was still labelled a punk.
That’s not to say Reed wasn’t being heralded for his work. In New York especially with new wave acts popping up on every block the singer had spent time “checking out the new wave of bands then playing CBGBs” he told Mick Wall in his biography, and he would “talking trash to the kids from the new fanzine Punk, getting off on seeing how much they were getting off on the fact he was talking to them.”
Newfound adoration is all well and good but the growing fandom around Reed in the punk scene was about to upset his plans. His 1977 tour of Europe involved a very special date at the heart of British rock and roll, the London Palladium.
The 2286-seat venue has hosted countless American musical heroes form the likes of Frank Sinatra, Judy Garland, Nat King Cole, to Johnny Cash, and Roy Orbison. The who’s who of music has graced the board at the Pally. Lou Reed, however, would have to wait. The venue, on March 20th, cancelled his upcoming shows in May and cited his newfound legion of punk fans as one of the reasons.
In the US Reed was preparing for a European tour meanwhile the Sex Pistols were preparing for all-out anarchy. They had already grabbed headlines for their violent, beer-drenched and spit-dripping live performances and after a foul-mouthed-rant on the Today show in December 1976, had made punks public enemy number one. A media feeding frenzy followed it left the Sex Pistols’ tour in tatters. Reed just so happened to be another guppy in the toothy mouth of the British tabloids.
Let us be clear, there is no known association between Reed and the Sex Pistols at this time. Reed was a comparative pensioner at 35 and mostly kept himself to himself in his native New York. But the singer told Melody Maker at the time that the venue pulled the show because he was labelled as a punk.
In Dirty Blvd.: The Life and Music of Lou Reed, Aidan Levy wonders if it is all down to the safety-pin brigade. Instead, Levy suggests it may be Reed’s notorious visit to the Palazzo Dello Sport in Rome back in February 1975. It saw protestors, enraged by high ticket prices, tear up the venue and caused significant damage. It was so troublesome it slowed down rock and roll imports into the country.
Never one to shy away from an insult is possible, Reed aimed a dig at the London venue at the time, “I’m on the way to Stockholm where the temperature is below zero,” Reed said in a press conference following the cancellation, “but it’s much colder in the heart of the person who banned me.”
Reed would still take to a London stage that year, managing to reschedule his show. And by 1989, the Palladium had calmed on its punk policy and welcomed Reed to perform there in 1989. So, once again, we ask you not to label music. It’s a damaging thing after all.