I was very sorry to hear about the recent death of the legendary rock star Lou Reed — sorry but not surprised. This was, after all, a man who had inflicted such damage on his liver through his rock’n’roll lifestyle that the liver announced its retirement earlier this year and had to be replaced with a new one.
Reed’s immense musical influence spanned the generations. I was at university in the 1980s and, although this was the heyday of Wham and Depeche Mode, if you wanted to be considered cool, you needed a copy of the Velvet Underground’s album (the one featuring a banana on the cover) prominently on view in your student bedroom.
Part of Reed’s appeal was that he was untouched by convention. As you may have read in the obituaries, this man was the epitome of ’60s and ’70s excess — a guy who really did take a walk on the wild side.
But what some of the obituaries have also revealed was that, for a brief period in the early 1970s, Lou Reed rediscovered his inner suburban Jew. Because, in the dark shadows behind Lou Reed, the wild man of rock, lurked Lewis Reed, the son of Sidney Reed, an accountant from Long Island. And after the break-up of the Velvets it was in Long Island that Reed took refuge.
In his moment of despair, and needing a little regular income, Lewis (as I now prefer to think of him) took a walk on the mild side back to his family home and accepted a job in the family accountancy firm. He even forgot about his Venus in Furs and married a nice Jewish girl called Bettye Kronstadt. He stopped taking drugs, preferring his mother’s chicken soup (rather than the Campbell’s variety promoted by his mentor, Andy Warhol) and settled down to working nine to five in the accountancy business.
One can imagine Lewis walking to work with his packed lunch, (presumably with a banana in his back pocket) through the serene, leafy streets of Long Island, anticipating a shift tapping away at the typewriter — a perfect day of sorts — before returning for an evening of domestic bliss with Bettye, his satellite of love. This was the Transfomer transformed.
What Lewis’s co-workers made of the eye make-up, the wrap-around shades and the black uniform of the new guy in the bought ledger section we will probably never know. However, it is interesting to note that there is an atavistic pull of Jews to book-keeping that even the craziest of rock stars cannot resist.
Of course, it couldn’t last. And when David Bowie showed up at his door, imploring his hero to come to London to make some more music, Lewis decided that he was ready to resume his career and challenge his liver to cope with a new and varied array of substances.
Lewis carried on to inspire a new generation of musicians. Eighties star Lloyd Cole said that, without Reed, he probably would have become a maths teacher, little knowing that the brooding Velvet Underground front man’s alter ego was himself pretty adept at calculating a profit and loss account.