Lou Reed: A Life by Anthony DeCurtis

Lou Reed: A Life

The essential biography of one of music's most influential icons: Lou ReedAs lead singer and songwriter for the Velvet Underground and a renowned solo artist, Lou Reed invented alternative rock. His music, at once a source of transcendent beauty and coruscating noise, violated all definitions of genre while speaking to millions of fans and inspiring generations of musician...

Title:Lou Reed: A Life
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Lou Reed: A Life Reviews

  • BMR, MSW, LSW

    I won this in a Goodreads giveaway, and just finished it...so many books, so little time.

    I knew the bare minimum about Lou Reed prior to reading this biography. He was basically the Rodney Dangerfield of rock and roll, "I get no respect." I now am compelled to listen to and study his catalog. It certainly sounds like he was at least 10 years ahead of the times musically and artistically for most of his career. His work is not for everyone, nor should it be.

    This book is very densely packed. I al

    I won this in a Goodreads giveaway, and just finished it...so many books, so little time.

    I knew the bare minimum about Lou Reed prior to reading this biography. He was basically the Rodney Dangerfield of rock and roll, "I get no respect." I now am compelled to listen to and study his catalog. It certainly sounds like he was at least 10 years ahead of the times musically and artistically for most of his career. His work is not for everyone, nor should it be.

    This book is very densely packed. I almost gave it 4 stars, but there was entirely too much conjecture and speculation in it. If you cut out all the guessing about Lou's feelings and motives it would have been much tighter and shorter.

    Recommended for fans and musos only.

  • Amy Leigh

    A must read for Lou Reed & Velvet Underground fans. The author knew Lou Reed well on a personal level and gave him unprecedented access to windows of his soul and parts of his life you will probably only read on this book. Definitely not a boring biography but an adventure that happened in real life!

  • TJ

    From his beginnings in the Velvet Underground to his final days as a New York City socialite with Laurie Anderson, Anthony Decurtis's unabashed account of the artist know as Lou Reed is the definitive statement of the underground music icon. In not only detailing Reed's life, personal and professional, DeCurtis examines Reed's music album by album.

    This is the best rock and roll biography I have ever read (and I've read a lot of them). Lou Reed: A Life solidifies Reed as an Artist with a "capita

    From his beginnings in the Velvet Underground to his final days as a New York City socialite with Laurie Anderson, Anthony Decurtis's unabashed account of the artist know as Lou Reed is the definitive statement of the underground music icon. In not only detailing Reed's life, personal and professional, DeCurtis examines Reed's music album by album.

    This is the best rock and roll biography I have ever read (and I've read a lot of them). Lou Reed: A Life solidifies Reed as an Artist with a "capital A", putting him among the ranks of literary likenesses of his Syracuse University mentor friend Delmore Schwartz, but also with his New York mentor Andy Warhol and friend David Bowie.

  • Phil Overeem

    I went into this hesitantly, after having read two other Reed bios and never having been knocked out by DeCurtis' work. But clearly it was a labor of love: while never flinching in looking at the subject with cold, clear eyes, the author makes a surprisingly fresh case for the humanity inherent in Reed's life and work. It takes DeCurtis a bit to get rolling; the early life / Velvets section is mostly what we already knew. But beginning with Reed's departure from VU, and especially extending into

    I went into this hesitantly, after having read two other Reed bios and never having been knocked out by DeCurtis' work. But clearly it was a labor of love: while never flinching in looking at the subject with cold, clear eyes, the author makes a surprisingly fresh case for the humanity inherent in Reed's life and work. It takes DeCurtis a bit to get rolling; the early life / Velvets section is mostly what we already knew. But beginning with Reed's departure from VU, and especially extending into his last quarter-century, he writes absorbingly, and even re-evaluates relationships and work that seemed settled for posterity. Recommended.

  • Matthew

    4.5 stars.

    Like so many others, my introduction to Lou Reed came at an early, impressionable age. I was barely a teenager, obsessed with the classic rock stalwarts that dominated my father’s own music collection - The Doors, Hendrix, Dylan, to name a few. It was also around this time Oliver Stone directed a horribly bloated biopic about Jim Morrison and the Doors, yielding in nothing more than a wasted (literally) performance from Val Kilmer and, well, an inclusion of the Velvet Underground’s sem

    4.5 stars.

    Like so many others, my introduction to Lou Reed came at an early, impressionable age. I was barely a teenager, obsessed with the classic rock stalwarts that dominated my father’s own music collection - The Doors, Hendrix, Dylan, to name a few. It was also around this time Oliver Stone directed a horribly bloated biopic about Jim Morrison and the Doors, yielding in nothing more than a wasted (literally) performance from Val Kilmer and, well, an inclusion of the Velvet Underground’s seminal drug anthem “Heroin” on its soundtrack. I, of course, bought the soundtrack, despite it being a reissue of many tracks I’d already owned; yet it was the peculiar droning noise of “Heroin” that continued to bring me back to it. What in the hell was this? To say it was like nothing I’d ever heard before was not only an understatement, but likely the reaction of so many others upon being introduced to Lou Reed’s brilliance.

    But enough about my experience with Lou Reed. I imagine readers of Anthony DeCurtis’s comprehensive and compulsively readable biography, Lou Reed: A Life, have similar stories. Reed was an icon not just for his contributions towards music, art, literature, etc, but for the profound effect he had on those who cherished his work. DeCurtis, a friend of Reed’s but also a dynamic music journalist, poignantly depicts the artist’s life through the lens that’s both celebratory and unapologetic. For someone as complex as Lou Reed, I’m almost certain he’d have expected nothing less.

    Or perhaps he would’ve given DeCurtis shit for it. Reed was famously difficult, a fact the writer hasn’t any problem describing in and throughout A Life. The prologue even mentions Reed’s own presumed apprehensions about the bio’s subject matter had he still been alive. But he was also fiercely loyal, oftentimes to a fault. It made for many a broken relationship throughout his life. It also made for many monumental achievements.

    These achievements are spelled out in full in DeCurtis’s bio, from Reed’s early “success” as a Pickwick Records songwriter, to his forming of the Velvets, to his collaboration with Warhol and beyond. I knew a bit of the Underground’s background, but it was the stories surrounding Reed’s solo work I found the most telling and compelling. Here was this mythical creature, this villainous character, shattering taboos and irking the masses seemingly for his own pleasure. What was behind all of this? What motivated the man to morph into such a figure? A Life dives deep into this dark, weird world, walking on the wild side Reed so ingeniously speaks of in his biggest hit. I found it difficult not to get roped into this strange, different alternate universe.

    My one quibble with Lou Reed: A Life is one I’m not surprised by. DeCurtis by nature is a music journalist, and many of his track-by-track interpretations of Reed’s work, while appreciated, felt a bit exhaustive. Then again, so too was Reed himself, a tireless pioneer who bled for his work, and was not against letting others bleed for it too. The man was far from perfect and A Life lets this be known. Yet what it also tells is a tale of a one-of-a-kind, once-in-a-generation talent whose influence was and is unquestionable, unrivaled and, frankly, unbelievable. Lou Reed was a visionary who paved the way for so many other artists with a similar vision, one that’s far from myopic, one that tests boundaries, one that pushes past comfort zones.

    What a life. And what a book.

  • Chris Landry

    Pretty good, though it loses steam at the end. For example, DeCurtis' analyses of the early Velvets records are really detailed and insightful and filled with context that makes me appreciate those songs more. But for Reed's later works the observations are less sharp. What's more DeCurtis spends a lot of time extolling the virtues of goofy songs like "Original Wrapper" but makes only passing reference to a song as astonishing as "Waves of Fear" making me wonder if DeCurtis even appreciates what

    Pretty good, though it loses steam at the end. For example, DeCurtis' analyses of the early Velvets records are really detailed and insightful and filled with context that makes me appreciate those songs more. But for Reed's later works the observations are less sharp. What's more DeCurtis spends a lot of time extolling the virtues of goofy songs like "Original Wrapper" but makes only passing reference to a song as astonishing as "Waves of Fear" making me wonder if DeCurtis even appreciates what makes the solo work so good.

    It also does an incomplete job of covering Reed's screen work. He mentions the scooter commercial but he could have easily lost 150 pages of his personal life coverage and talked about his appearance in Wim Wenders' 'Faraway, So Close!' Or his cameos in 'Blue in the Face' or 'Get Crazy.'

    Stray takeaways:

    - I appreciate that Lou Reed agrees that Frank Zappa sucks

    - Reed kicked the violinist out of his band for owning a unicycle

    - He harboured no sentimental feelings about Brooklyn or Long Island

    - He genuinely enjoyed American football.

  • Matt

    A solid biography, I just wish it had included more pictures throughout the book instead of a few pages in the middle. Reed's life story is most fascinating when you consider how you would feel if the biggest mistakes and craziest decisions of your life were not only seen by the public, but embraced and encouraged by them. How do you make changes when the public constantly wants you to stick to your "original" script? On the other hand: bad decisions usually have equally bad consequences...

  • Laura
  • Joseph

    Workmanlike and comprehensive, but relies overmuch on deep readings of Reed's lyrics for long stretches.

  • Tosh

    Overall Lou Reed had a sad life. One of the great American songwriters, he is also a guy that was angry. First of all, there's nothing better than The Velvet Underground. He may not have wanted to hear that, but having such perfection at a young age is a hard thing to jump over. On the other hand, there were brilliant solo Lou albums as well. His anger toward his father is puzzling, even though the family ok a series of shock treatments to solve Lou's depression or some say his gay tendency, but

    Overall Lou Reed had a sad life. One of the great American songwriters, he is also a guy that was angry. First of all, there's nothing better than The Velvet Underground. He may not have wanted to hear that, but having such perfection at a young age is a hard thing to jump over. On the other hand, there were brilliant solo Lou albums as well. His anger toward his father is puzzling, even though the family ok a series of shock treatments to solve Lou's depression or some say his gay tendency, but that's not really clear if that was the reason or not. Many said his father was a loving figure than someone who was evil, and Lou treated him as an evil presence throughout his life. There are a few ugly scenes that came up through Lou's behavior, but on the other hand, I know people who loved him. And, Anthony DeCurtis interviewed many that did love him for his gentleness and his ability to show affection when needed. DeCurtis who knew Lou and go along with him was very even-handed and more important appreciated his entire output as a recording artist. While reading this book I had the urge to listen to the Lou albums I passed up, but also revisited the classic Velvets and Lou solo albums. A remarkable song man, and a great lyricist. Now, I really want to hear the "Lulu" album.

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