Though the incredible song Heroin is featured in the Movie Apocalypse Now, I can honestly say that the first time I consciously listened to the Velvet Underground was my first weekend in Japan. My unknown quantity of a roommate had a couple CD’s. When I spotted the track “Sweet Jane” I asked to listen to them. Like every Canadian, the version recorded by the Cowboy Junkies had long since seeped into my consciousness. It was haunting and ethereal. How ironic that the original was the complete opposite. It was raw and driving, cynical and humorous, honest and sly. It was….. something else. Japan provided me with so many interesting and amazing experiences, and odd as it sounds, I will include discovering the Velvet Underground with them.
I just finished reading Mick Wall’s book “Lou Reed The Life.” It filled in the background and the events of an artist who was so clearly ahead of his time. It paints the portrait of an artist who critics hated the first time, but whose short term memories allowed them to laud him later in life.
Though it bothers me, I know there will always be people who swear up and down that they knew first, or at least before everyone else, what they were seeing. They claim they were in on the bottom floor. For all of these people, there is a true need for someone like me. This someone can honestly say that they came late to the party. I didn’t read The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo first. I didn’t know Nirvana before Nevermind exploded. I admit it. I am not the pioneer.
The book presents a very conflicted artist who alternately couldn’t care less about success and craved it terribly. The book presents an artist who wanted complete control despite not having it in his personal life, and not always blooming when he had it over his art.
Like many biographies, it can’t really get into the mind of the artist. It can’t present their thoughts, and mostly speculate on the emotions, the motivations, and the inner thoughts of the subject. Luckily this book does less of this than most. Perhaps this is because it presents Lou Reed as such a contradiction that even if Lou were to have done an autobiography, it would be full of fiction.
I enjoyed the book and recommend it for anyone who likes the music of Lou Reed or the Velvet Underground. I will read this book again, but not without the music that the book speaks of.