Article Picture

IN PRINT
BY DOUG FERGUSON
Book Review of TRANSFORMER: THE LOU REED STORY
By Victor Bockris
Appearing in Billboard's August 12, 1995 issue.
(Simon & Schuster; $25)

"If you play all my albums in a row . . . you're following a person. A person I've tried to make really exist for you." Lou Reed.

Writer and Reed associate Victor Bockris helps to fortify that real person by detailing the life of this mythic rock figure with "Transformer," a tough, clear-eyed bio that rips through rock's experimental years, tracing Reed's deviant tracks.

Best known for his biographies of Andy Warhol, Keith Richards, and William S. Burroughs, Bockris offers an authoritative account of Reed, dissecting each chapter of the Rock'n'Roll Animal's life; from his Lower East Side salad/amphetamine days in New York, through the aborted 1993 Velvet Underground reunion tour.

Those surrounding Reed and his career provide the meat of this story, while Bockris provides the legwork, sifting through four decades' worth of interviews and press clippings, as well as his own Q&As.

The book follows Reed from his rebellion against his Long Island, N.Y., parents, who attempted to "cure" his homosexuality by subjecting him to electroshock therapy, through his heady days at the helm of Velvet Underground, to the elder statesman's 1989 magnum opus release, "New York."

Reed's genius, writes Bockris, was his ability to seduce brilliant collaborators into action. But the singer's paranoia and insecurity forced a constant revolving cast of characters into the drama that was Reed's life.

The artist's notorious obsession with misery and megalomania (Reed once gladly took pal Warhol's advice on stage lighting: use a dramatic white spotlight the way Hitler did during his rise) made him an intriguing and marketable prince of suffering. Behind each project, though, lay a trail of disgruntled associates--like bandmate John Cale--who swore never to work with Reed again.

A purebred destruction junkie, Reed's iconoclastic career path broke down conventional tenets of rock. When RCA released 1975's "Metal Machine Music," he pushed for an attached disclaimer: "Warning: no vocals. Best cut: none. Sounds like: static on a car radio."

Bockris (whose writing focuses more on the psychology behind Reed's records than their musical makeup) shows how the singer suffered and survived for his art through drugs and marriage, divorce and sobriety. Hating the mediocrity that he saw creeping into rock--"Frank Zappa is the most untalented bore who ever lived," he once snapped--Reed revolted against his own commercial potential time after time, earning himself a long-lasting reputation as a rock'n'roll purist. (That rep, however, didn't stop him from taking a walk on the wild side for Honda scooters in 1985.)

A counterculture original, Reed helped lay the groundwork for today's alternative rock. Here, Bockris peels back the black leather and separates the music from the self-doomed man.

(c) BPI Communications, 1995 ALL RIGHTS RESERVED