It’s all well and good being one of the most gifted pop songwriters of all time, but when you’re also one of the most caustic, cantankerous and chaotic superstars rock and roll has ever witnessed, then chances are you will become a legend. That was certainly the case for Lou Reed.
Though Reed rightly made his name as one of the most subversive yet potent alt-rock songwriters in history, penning incendiary tracks for his main squeeze and one of the most influential bands ever in the Velvet Underground, it was out on his own that he truly flourished. Being a solo star allowed Reed not only to flex his muscles creatively, developing one of the more searing careers among his contemporaries but also to allow his bristling personality to take charge. Simply put, whether on stage or off it, nobody was safe from Lou Reed. Below, we’re looking back at his wildest moments.
Lou Reed, as the swashbuckling rock ‘n’ roll frontman he was, naturally found himself in a few scrapes. They did sometimes involve other people, including the time a fan once bit his bottom as a stage invasion went wrong, but, more often than not, every outrageous, rude, crazy and scary moment in Reed’s career was based on his own personality.
There are few artists who could match Reed for intensity, and he made sure that he kept himself head and shoulders above the rest, ensuring, for a time, that he was the most crazed and dangerous performer around. It made him one of the most interesting artists around. While others could boast simply songwriting skill or free-flowing charisma, it appeared as if Reed had a command of both.
Here, however, we’re looking back at ten moments that were wilder than most. Ten moments where Reed’s cool cover was blown and he lost his balance.
Lou Reed’s 10 wildest moments:
Metal Machine Music
Some albums are meant to be listened to intently, enjoyed without distraction and spoken about as much as possible thereafter. Some albums, like Lou Reed’s disagreeable Metal Machine Music, is the exact opposite. At over an hour of solely aggressive and antagonistic industrial noises, it is one of the strangest albums ever released.
There is not a song or section of the album that we could lovingly tell you to go listen to. Instead, we ask you to consider the giant middle finger to the industry that the album was. Reed was in the middle of his resurgence as an artist and chose to honour that with an album he was hoping would insult and upset music critics and lovers everywhere.
If that’s not the most punk thing you’ve ever heard, we don’t know what is.
Lou Reed vs Lester Bangs
Lou Reed’s interview technique is proof of just how much he despised music journalism. The singer and enigmatic leader of the Velvet Underground faced a fair few adversaries in his time, but there is only one Joker to Reed’s Batman; Lester Bangs.
The two share a caustic wit and a quick tongue, which makes for some brilliant exchanges in their time. Bangs called Reed a “vaguely uncomfortable fat man” in a 1973 profile he wrote for Let It Rock magazine, an interview in which he also insulted David Bowie to try and provoke the singer. It was their meeting in 1975 for the magazine Creem called Let Us Now Praise Famous Death Dwarves, or How I Slugged It Out with Lou Reed and Stayed Awake, Bangs and Reed are back at it again.
Reed: “You used to be able to write… You’re getting very egocentric.”
Bangs: “One thing I like about you, is that you’re not afraid to lower yourself.”
But the piece is more pertinently known for Reed’s classic journalist putdown: “You really are an asshole. You went past assholism into some kind of urinary tract.”
Ah, what a gent!
Making an interviewer wish they weren’t born
There are few artists capable of striking fear into the hearts and minds of journalists across the world as Lou Reed did. In March 2000, the singer and songwriter faced with yet another interview and he was clearly not in the mood to discuss anything of value, instead, using the time to call journalists the “lowest form of life”.
It was the first “press interview” Niklas Källner had ever conducted and it would be one he’d never forget. Reed had granted the interviewer thirty precious minutes of his time and he was clearly ready to deflect every single question that Källner had readied for him. It begins from the first moments as the duo miscommunicate and Reed’s sneer begins to appear from the very beginning.
Never really neglecting to interact, Reed instead communicated with a cold and deadpan facial expression and never really opened himself up to the conversation. In Reed’s defence, and in Källner’s own words, “He expected a typical music journalist to show up—Journalists who know everything about Lou Reed. Instead, he meets a 22-year-old guy that knows nothing about Lou Reed… And who is just terrified.”
A terrified journalist for Lou Reed is like a ready-made lunch and the legendary songwriter never turns down a meal.
Live: Take No Prisoners
It’s not particularly unusual or wild for a songwriter to release a live album, in fact, it was something Reed was particularly good at. The singer’s record Rock ‘N’ Roll Animal is one of the best around. But this live album sees Reed taking his foot off the pedal creatively and allowing the fun and inter-band japes to reign supreme.
Known for usually delivering his music with precision and authority, Reed goes off-script and allows his personality to take centre stage. It means he addresses the audience, cracks some jokes and turns his music into something almost unrecognisable. It’s the kind of performance that showed that Reed always needed control.
The crowning glory of the LP is, of course, the near-seventeen minute version of ‘Walk on the Wild Side’. In truth, the record is closer to a comedy album of old, rather than a live album. Listen below and tell us what you think.
“I don’t have anything to say”
In 1974, Reed arrived in Australia with a big tour lined up and a rock and roll scene desperate to see a new hero. Reed got off a long plane ride from America and was confronted by a press conference. Not a great start.
If you’re an up and coming musician in today’s world, you better be media trained. With today’s glut of information and entertainment, you need to make sure you expertly traverse the range of cascading platforms or risk plummeting to the death of your career. In 1974, this was certainly not the case. In fact, when Reed arrived at Sydney airport, the possibility that he would sit down and pleasantly answer a series of monotonous questions with a smiling face was not only unlikely but wholly unwanted. In the seventies, following the carefree love and peace of the sixties, the kids wanted danger.
It is this danger, this affronted no-nonsense approach that endeared Lou Reed to yet another generation of kids.
Fighting David Bowie
Let’s get one thing clear from the very beginning: Lou Reed and David Bowie were like brothers. Though not inseparable, they recognised each other’s true intent from the very start of their relationship and each artist helped to stoke the fires of creativity within the other — but they also had one notable scrap too.
The incident, which was initially chronicled by Bowie: The Ultimate Music Guide, saw the dynamic duo come to blows after a show at the Hammersmith Odeon in 1979. After the performance, Bowie, Reed and some of the band members left the stage and made their way to the Chelsea Rendezvous restaurant for some food and a catch up.
At one point, Reed asked Bowie if he’d be interested in producing his ninth solo studio album The Bells, to which Bowie kindly agreed. However, in a sobering and somewhat cutting moment, Bowie said he would only work with Reed on the album if he got sober and cleaned up his act. It was an ultimatum the New Yorker didn’t take kindly to. “As a guitarist in the Lou Reed band at that time, I was actually sitting next to both David and Lou at dinner when this exchange took pace, I can tell you exactly what transpired verbally,” Chuck Hammer once said in an interview with Uncut.
“Lou had been discussing details regarding his upcoming new album — as yet unrecorded. Lou asked David if he would be interested in producing the record and David replied yes — but only upon the condition that Lou would stop drinking and clean up his act. And upon that reply, the aforementioned chaos ensued.” It was a largely humble request from Bowie, the Starman himself had only recently shaken himself out of a cocaine binge that had lasted years. It was clear that drugs were no longer a driving force for the chameleon of rock.
“It should be noted that this verbal bantering also continued into the night back at the hotel — with Bowie in the hallway demanding that Reed ‘come out and fight like a man’. Eventually, it all quieted down as Lou never reappeared to continue the fight, and was most likely already fast asleep.”
Tai Chi became his obsession
The inclusion of Lou Reed’s love of Tai Chi isn’t necessarily ‘wild’ in the traditional sense. In fact, the practice is one of the most soothing exercises one can commit to. But, in the context of Lou Reed — the marauding, incisive and often vicious performer — it’s as unusual as can be. It may have been through years of actively pursuing a cutting edge both musically and personally, that eventually settled Reed down to practice the art, but when he did, he became obsessed with it.
It would form the basis of the singer’s final LP, Hudson River Meditations, and leave many of his fans bemused by the choice. The 67-minute LP, made up of four instrumental pieces, hinted that Reed’s days as the provocative punk pioneer were surely over. Instead, we find a man trying to centre himself and using music as the guiding light to get him there. A great listen for meditating and a snoozefest for anything else. They even made a DVD!
Becoming the face of Honda Scooters
For Lou Reed, his major foray into commercials was for Honda and their new range of sleek and city-centric scooters. It’s a piece of vintage video that we could watch over and over again. It’s about as eighties as a perm-laden Weird Al Yankovic eating a microwave hot dog while Paula Abdul gently blows dry ice around him—and, naturally, we love it.
Featuring Reed’s classic song ‘Walk on the Wild Side’, arguably his greatest creation, the advert captures a series of scenes in New York City life, some friendly, others dangerous, all of them modern and delightfully varied. Interspersed with those images is Reed basking in the glow of poor lighting with aviators on and a perm before a saxophonist comes in with the song’s finest solo.
“Hey,” says Reed as he takes off his glasses and while sitting atop the new Honda scooter, which in itself is a bastion of eighties ruler-driven design. Reed’s celebrity endorsement continues as he completes the tagline, “don’t settle for walkin’.” As the camera pans and the credits roll, the vision of 198 0s America is firmly completed.
Reuniting and destroying Velvet Underground
Following the sad death of Andy Warhol, Lou Reed and John Cale reconnected. The songwriting pair had been the fulcrum on which The Velvet Underground balanced and after the pair agreed to work with one another on the Warhol tribute album Songs for Drella it seemed like a widespread VU reunion was in the works. The band had never truly found fame and recognition during their tenure as the alt-pop royalty of New York City in the sixties, perhaps the nineties was the decade for the band to excel.
A few reunion shows took place and the makings of a fully-fledge tour were beginning to surface. That is until, through his determined command of the group and his refusal to bend even an inch to anybody else’s whim, Reed quickly brought the whole thing to an end. Another disagreement between Cale and Reed and the big balloon of all our VU hopes and reams was permanently deflated.
When he tried to become ‘The Original Wrapper’
There are few things more cringe than a middle-aged man trying to rap but, in Reed’s defence, he probably didn’t know that when he made ‘The Original Wrapper’. The singer was going through a new wave boom at the time and, like many of the new wave bands, he found himself drawn to the emerging sounds of hip-hop. While Blondie can claim the first ‘rap song’ to top the charts with ‘Rapture’, Reed’s attempt was destroy-your-own-ears bad.
There aren’t many occasions in Reed’s life where he definitely sold out for the cash — a few have been mentioned above. But it’s hard to recognise this as anything but one of Reed’s wild pursuits of music gone very, very wrong.