Lou Reed

A Life


By Anthony DeCurtis

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The essential biography of one of music’s most influential icons: Lou Reed.

As 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 musicians.

But while his iconic status may be fixed, the man himself was anything but. Lou Reed’s life was a transformer’s odyssey. Eternally restless and endlessly hungry for new experiences, Reed reinvented his persona, his sound, even his sexuality time and again. A man of contradictions and extremes, he was fiercely independent yet afraid of being alone, artistically fearless yet deeply paranoid, eager for commercial success yet disdainful of his own triumphs. Channeling his jagged energy and literary sensibility into classic songs – like “Walk on the Wild Side” and “Sweet Jane” – and radically experimental albums alike, Reed remained desperately true to his artistic vision, wherever it led him.

Now, just a few years after Reed’s death, Rolling Stone writer Anthony DeCurtis, who knew Reed and interviewed him extensively, tells the provocative story of his complex and chameleonic life. With unparalleled access to dozens of Reed’s friends, family, and collaborators, DeCurtis tracks Reed’s five-decade career through the accounts of those who knew him and through Reed’s most revealing testimony, his music. We travel deep into his defiantly subterranean world, enter the studio as the Velvet Underground record their groundbreaking work, and revel in Reed’s relationships with such legendary figures as Andy Warhol, David Bowie, and Laurie Anderson. Gritty, intimate, and unflinching, Lou Reed is an illuminating tribute to one of the most incendiary artists of our time.




PEOPLE ALWAYS SAY TO me, 'Why don't you get along with critics?'" Lou Reed told me one night in 2012. "I tell them, 'I get along fine with Anthony DeCurtis.' Shuts them right up." We were sitting in the dining room of the Kelly Writers House at the University of Pennsylvania, where I teach creative writing. I'd brought Lou down to do an interview with me in front of fifty or so invited guests and to have dinner with a dozen students, faculty members, musicians, and local media luminaries. As with so many things with Lou, it was touch-and-go until the very end.

Getting Lou to come to Penn, which is in Philadelphia, was complicated. Arrangements for his visit had been made months in advance with his manager, who assured me that Lou had approved them. The Kelly Writers House is an actual thirteen-room house in the heart of the Penn campus, and the interview would take place in the front room. Lou would be paid a modest fee, and the agenda was a brief reception, an hour-long interview, and a home-cooked meal served at the Writers House afterward. Patti Smith, Suzanne Vega, and Rufus Wainwright had all done it in previous years and had a great time. But Lou was different. I knew it was asking a lot of someone who didn't typically relish events of this kind, and I wanted to make sure in advance that he understood what the evening entailed. His manager assured me that he did.

But two days before the event, Lou's manager called and asked me if I would speak to Lou. Lou now wanted to do only the interview—not the reception, not the dinner. The intimacy of the event was the whole point, so that wasn't acceptable. But Lou was adamant. When I called the next day, Lou answered "Hello?" with a voice that sounded as if it was coming from inside a crypt. I explained the situation, and he matter-of-factly responded, "Well, we don't have to do any of it." The genial artist I had known for years had transformed into "Lou Reed." When we ended the conversation, I had no idea if he was going to show up or not.

He did show up. When he arrived, he greeted me warmly, as if nothing untoward had happened the day before, and we went into a faculty office that served as his greenroom. For his rider, Reed had requested kielbasa—which had caused great mirth for me and the Writers House staff. What would the fearsome Lou Reed insist on? Boys? Girls? Drugs? No, kielbasa. I later learned that kielbasa was necessary: it helped with his diabetes. A platter of meats and cheeses from Philadelphia's famed Di Bruno Bros. gourmet shop was brought to us, and Reed began chatting with me as if we had all the time in the world.

As we talked, I could hear the guests gathering downstairs for the reception. Reed, meanwhile, picked up a piece of prosciutto and, after tasting it, launched into an encomium to its excellence. It was, without question, the best prosciutto he had ever had. Could I please tell him where he could get some for himself? I introduced him to the woman who had ordered the food, and he peppered her with thanks and questions. In the meantime, the reception was now fully under way. People peeked into the room every few minutes to see if we would be coming out anytime soon. I decided the reception would have to be sacrificed. Lou was in a good mood, and if the interview went well, he might be willing to stay for dinner. We continued to enjoy the food, and finally I stood up and said, "We should probably go do our talk." He looked as if he had completely forgotten about it, but he stood up and followed me downstairs and into the front room.

When we emerged I could feel the audience's tense energy. Lou, of course, seemed impervious. That kind of tension was the emotional sea he swam in, the air he breathed. The room was small, and it was packed. A number of people had traveled great distances to be there. Everyone had known that Lou was in the house, but his not emerging for the reception lent the gathering an edge. This was Lou Reed, after all. Maybe he would walk out. When we sat down in the two chairs set up in the front of the room, we adjusted our mics, and I thanked Reed for coming. "Anything for you," he said. Our conversation rambled on for an hour. We talked about writing, Andy Warhol, Delmore Schwartz, the Velvet Underground, and Laurie Anderson. We took questions from the audience, and then we were done.

Now Lou was in a great mood. He remained in his seat as people came by to say hello and brought memorabilia for him to sign. He was gracious to everyone, and looked over the rarities presented to him, mentioning that even he didn't have copies of some of them. Then, after about fifteen minutes, he joined us for dinner. Everyone got their Lou Reed story. And I got my compliment.

I'D GOTTEN TO KNOW Lou from writing about him in Rolling Stone and elsewhere, and over the course of more than fifteen years we'd regularly run into each other in New York—at clubs and concerts, at restaurants and parties. I always felt that one of the reasons Lou and I got along well was that we met socially before we ever met as artist and critic. In June of 1995 I got stuck at the airport in Cleveland, where I had gone to cover the concert celebrating the opening of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Backed by Soul Asylum, Lou had turned in a roaring version of "Sweet Jane" as part of that show. My flight back to New York was delayed for hours and I was settling in for the wait when I ran into a record company friend, who introduced me to Lou and Laurie. There's nothing like an interminable flight delay to grease the gears of socialization.

"You reviewed New York for Rolling Stone, right?" Reed asked, referring to his classic 1989 album.


"How many stars did you give it?"


"Shoulda been five," he said. But he was smiling. The ice had been broken.

So we sat and chatted in the airport lounge. The subject of the Hall of Fame's list of the five hundred songs that shaped rock and roll came up, and Lou asked if "Walk on the Wild Side" was on it. It was, and he seemed pleased to be represented. Then, in a sweet gesture, he asked if Laurie's "O Superman" had been included. It had not, but at that moment I got a sense of how important she was to him. He didn't want to make the moment all about him.

Though I subsequently interviewed Lou a half dozen times or so, I remember those more casual moments with the most affection. I recall talking with him at length about Brian Wilson, whom he greatly admired, at a party for Amnesty International. Another time, I ran into him outside Trattoria Dell'Arte on Seventh Avenue when he and Laurie were heading to Carnegie Hall to see the Cuban musicians who had been part of the Buena Vista Social Club phenomenon. It was a warm summer night and Lou was wearing a light-colored short-sleeve shirt. He was in his late fifties at the time, and his hair was graying. In the fading sunlight, I could see the lines of aging on his face and neck. Rather than the daunting, leather-clad figure of Lou Reed, he looked like the man he had in a sense become: an aging Jewish New Yorker out for a night of entertainment with his arty, attractive girlfriend.

He also seemed to be in a terrific mood. He was excited to see the show and asked if I was going. When I explained that I didn't have tickets, he half-jokingly asked, "Do you think Laurie and I could get you in as some kind of"—he hesitated in order to come up with the exact right phrase—"celebrity perk?" We all laughed, but I was touched nonetheless.

Encountering him around the city that way always made me proud to be a New York native. An artist of incalculable significance, Lou was also, as one of his song titles put it, the ultimate "NYC Man," as inextricable a part of the city as, say, the Twin Towers. Now he and they are gone and the city still stands, however much diminished.

THOSE INTERACTIONS WITH LOU both spurred and complicated the writing of this book. I have been a Lou Reed fan for decades, since the Velvet Underground, and hold his work in the absolute highest regard. Other than Bob Dylan, the Beatles, and James Brown, no one has exerted as great an influence on popular music as he has. Particularly when we would run into each other unexpectedly, I would walk away feeling how extraordinary it was that I was on such familiar terms with Lou Reed.

I'm not unaware that I was useful to him. I wrote well and appreciatively about him. He always conceived of himself as a writer, and my having a PhD in American literature, writing for Rolling Stone, and teaching at a prestigious college all meant a great deal to him, though that's the sort of thing he would never admit. To borrow a phrase from one of Lou's close friends, the photographer Mick Rock, I saw Lou the way he wanted to see himself.

But I was always aware of his innumerable contradictions, and fascinated by them. Sometimes when I was interviewing him, I could see him tense up, watch his jaw tighten and his eyes grow cold, see him get ready to snap as he had famously done with so many writers so many times. See him about to become Lou Reed. Then he would remember that it was me, that it was okay, and he would calm down and simply answer the question. He would joke about how being insulted by Lou Reed had become something of a badge of honor in the music industry ("Kind of makes you hard, doesn't it?"), and how he'd used that persona to his benefit. "God forbid I should ever be nice to people: it would ruin everything," he told me. "The fact is, it works well, being thought to be difficult, because then people just won't ask you to do things you don't want to do. Being a nice guy? That's a disaster. You're just asking for trouble. People think, 'Oh, he's a nice guy, let's work him over.' As opposed to, 'Him? Forget it. He'll rip your throat out.'"

When Lou died I was as shocked as anyone who wasn't in his very closest circle. The opportunity to write this book emerged soon after, and I wondered about it. It's not something he would ever have wanted, and while he was alive I would not have written it. "Anything for you" would never have gone that far. No question: this book does not at all times see Lou the way he wanted to see himself. Aspects of his sex life, his drug use, and his cruelty that he came to be embarrassed about, and, in some sense, would have loved to erase, are discussed here in detail. As are his generosity and his kindness, his talent, his vision, and his genius. So if this book does not present him the way he wanted to see himself, to as great a degree as it was possible for me, it presents him as he was. And, I believe, as he knew himself to be. It is the full, intimate portrait, of an artist and a person, that he, like anyone of his stature, deserves.

Lou loved Hamlet and often would refer to it in conversation and interviews. Some lines from that play came to mind as I thought about what I wrote about him in here. At one point, when Hamlet is talking about his dead father, a monumental figure who literally haunts him, he says simply, "He was a man. Take him for all in all. I shall not look upon his like again." Lou Reed. All in all. Never again.

New York City

March 2017



NAMED AFTER HIS MOTHER'S late grandfather, Lewis Allan Reed was born on March 2, 1942, at Beth El Hospital in Brooklyn, New York. His parents were Sidney Joseph and Toby Reed. Sidney was a smart, handsome, ambitious accountant and Toby a housewife whose beauty was remarked upon by all who knew her. Three years earlier, at the age of nineteen, she had been chosen "Queen of the Stenographers" at one of the many local beauty pageants in New York at that time. She had been nominated by the firm where she was working, United Lawyers Service, and it was characteristic of her reticence that she claimed the only reason she was selected was that "the really pretty stenographer was out sick that day." Her photo ran in the Brooklyn Eagle, and she was crowned queen at the Stenographers Ball held at the Manhattan Center on Thirty-Fourth Street in Manhattan, a run of subway stops and a world away from her life in Brooklyn.

The country was barely through the Depression and World War II was raging, but Brooklyn was a peaceful, if rough-hewn, place to live. The borough was overwhelmingly ethnic, with Italian, Irish, Jewish, and African American neighborhoods bordering one another and, in some instances, overlapping, with varying degrees of comfort. In contrast to the soaring towers and relentless modernity of Manhattan, Brooklyn was old-world and human-scale. The buildings were low and each neighborhood had everything its residents needed within a few blocks. The immigrant communities quavered on the tense balance of attempting to re-create the familiar comforts of their European homelands and embracing the fresh possibilities of life in the New World.

Both Toby's and Sidney's parents had emigrated from Europe in the early 1900s, her family from Poland, his from Russia. Sidney's father, Mendel Rabinowitz, established a successful printing business and settled in the Brooklyn neighborhood of Borough Park, a predominantly Italian and Jewish area. A recognizably Jewish name like Rabinowitz would do Sidney no good if he hoped to advance in the world beyond his neighborhood, so he legally changed his surname to Reed.

The Reeds were not religious and did not belong to a synagogue, although Lewis would eventually be bar mitzvahed. Sidney Reed, an opinionated man, despised organized religion. He was something of a loner, and the family did not have many close friends and did not belong to any neighborhood organizations. They lived in a small, walk-up apartment. Sidney was close to his younger brother Stan, who lived with the Reeds for a time, but for the most part the Reeds' family life was tight and enclosed. Lewis was the Reeds' first child, and, as the first and only son in a Jewish family, he was cherished.

Like so many men of his time, Sidney had struggled to find work in the wake of the Depression. A well-spoken man who prized the English language, he had dreamed of becoming a writer or a lawyer, but settled on being a certified public accountant, in accordance with his mother's wishes. Toby, whose given last name was Futterman, had left school to go to work and help support her family after her father died when she was in her teens.

The war was a frightening time for everyone, but particularly for Jews, as the Nazis swept across Europe and rumors and reports of the fate of that continent's Jewish population began to drift across the Atlantic to the United States. Personal disappointments were pushed aside, and a sense of tense, precarious gratitude became predominant. Simply to have a job and enough money to live and provide for a growing family—simply to be alive—seemed enough to be grateful for. Hoping for more was tempting the fates.

THE BROOKLYN THAT LOU Reed grew up in has been shrouded in a haze of nostalgia, perhaps deservedly. It sometimes seems as if the entire future of the music industry was forged by Brooklyn Jews of his approximate generation, Carole King, David Geffen, Neil Sedaka, Clive Davis, Neil Diamond, Gerry Goffin, Seymour Stein, and Barbra Streisand among them. Jewish families typically encouraged education and ambition in their children, and that manifested itself in both creative work and business. The practical business side derived from a sense that survival in post-Depression America required making sure you entered a profession that guaranteed the bills would always be paid. The creativity derived from an exactly opposite source, one out of the parents' control. As all immigrant groups tend to do, the Jews who came to New York attempted to reconstruct the homeland they had left behind. That provided a sense of comfort, and to contemporary eyes it looks romantic and charming. But these Brooklyn shtetls seemed restrictive and painfully old-world to the children and grandchildren of those immigrants. American music, radio, movies, and television all called to those young people with a wild sense of wide-open freedom that their neighborhoods and cramped apartments couldn't begin to rival. That generation would leave Europe behind and create a vision of America in the popular arts that, before long, would become the prism through which the entire world viewed the country.

For some, Brooklyn in the forties and early fifties was a world of egg creams and raucous, sunny afternoons at Ebbets Field, of men waiting at newsstands for the bulldog editions of the next day's newspapers in order to get the sports scores and racing results, of women sitting outside on stoops to escape the heat, watching their kids and sharing gossip with neighbors. If Reed noted or participated in such routines, they only rarely penetrated his consciousness in later years, and he didn't share those reminiscences with others. He would repeatedly describe his upbringing in Brooklyn as a combination of familial oppression and neighborhood tension. As a songwriter, he would eventually exalt the grittiness of New York's streets, but as a young boy growing up, he found it off-putting—both frightening and a little beneath him. He couldn't even romanticize it in retrospect, though he described it in terms far worse than it likely was. Taking his imagination to the extreme was a habit that began early with him.

Reed attended P.S. 192 on Eighteenth Avenue, four blocks from his parents' apartment. His mother would escort him to school, despite the short distance. Reed recalled that he didn't walk to school alone before the age of nine because "if you walked the streets, you'd get killed." As for the school itself, he said, "They lined you up in a school yard with wire fences, no grass to walk on. The playground was concrete and they had lunch monitors.… People were pissing in the streets. A kid had to go to the john, you raised your hand, got out of line, and pissed through the wire. It was like being in a concentration camp, I suppose." It's inconceivable, of course, that teachers, especially in a coeducational school at that time—or any other time, really—would call on boys to urinate through a fence rather than use the school's restroom. Perhaps the boys did it on their own when they were playing in the school yard and no teachers or oppressive "lunch monitors" were present, and Reed conflated the memories in order to enhance his anecdote. But then if, however ironically, you're comparing your elementary school to a concentration camp, anything is possible.

If Reed's contemporaries heard evocative street corner singing or the wonders of New York radio while growing up in Brooklyn, such charms were lost on or unperceivable to him. "I didn't hear nothin' in Brooklyn," he said. "The radio didn't exist." He concluded, "I couldn't have been unhappier than in the eight years I spent growing up in Brooklyn." Somewhat jokingly he later added, "Most of my childhood memories are not available to me. My childhood was so unpleasant that I absolutely don't remember anything before age thirty-one." Reed did attend Dodgers games with his father, though he would later disparage the experience, wryly claiming that the Dodgers' leaving Brooklyn—a source of never-ending heartbreak for, and much written about by, literary Brooklynites of those days—was the cause of his cynicism. He claimed to have cared about the Dodgers "very much," but their departure for Los Angeles in 1957—ironically, long after Reed and his family had themselves left the borough—made it impossible for him to ever care about baseball again.

When Reed was five, his younger sister, Merrill, whose nickname was Bunny, was born. Now with two children, the Reeds, like so many other solvent families who lived in cities at around that time, began to think about moving to the suburbs. The war was over, and America was becoming the world's great economic engine. The baby boom was in full swing, and the crowded urban centers were beginning to seem indistinguishable from the cramped environments that so many of their ancestors had fled. The postwar era in America was characterized by a desire to establish a reassuring normalcy, to erase the Europe of wars and genocide, to lose the past and live in America's eternally bright future. No doubt the Cold War was coming into being, and the threat of nuclear annihilation lent a persistent undercurrent of dread to the era. But that whiff of mortality only fueled the desire for stability, a kind of submerged rage for order. The booming economy and the New Deal reforms that the Roosevelt administration had put in place to combat the Depression meant that social mobility was, for once, a true possibility in America. The dream of owning your own home was becoming a reality for millions of people. And when Sidney Reed was offered the job of treasurer at Cellu-Craft, a Long Island firm that, in the true spirit of The Graduate, manufactured plastics, it seemed as if the Reeds were finally getting their shot at that dream. So in 1952, the Reed family moved to Freeport, Long Island.

SIDNEY REED WANTED TO raise his kids on Long Island in part because he believed it would be safer, and he "thought that the opportunity on the island would be better," said Allan Hyman, one of Reed's close friends on Long Island, of Reed's father. "That was the way a lot of people felt." Freeport was one of the small towns along the south shore of Long Island that served as a bedroom community for New York. The Reeds moved there at a time when conformity was not merely desired or valued; it was an unquestioned good. The Reeds' home—an undistinguished three-bedroom ranch-style house at 35 Oakfield Avenue—cost $10,000, and it had been built in 1951. Many of the families streaming to the island from the city were from Brooklyn, and many of them were Jewish. Jews were a distinct, if significant, minority, and Reed was enrolled in Hebrew school at Congregation B'nai Israel, which he attended three days a week—and loathed—in preparation for his bar mitzvah. In stark contrast to the identity politics of today, assimilation was the order of the day in the early fifties on Long Island, and none of Reed's friends, Jewish or not, recall incidents of anti-Semitism or bias. There was a black community in Freeport, and students socialized across racial lines at the high school level, though racial strife would erupt there later, in the sixties. "It was a fantastic place to grow up," said Doug Van Buskirk, who attended school with Reed. "Probably anybody on the south shore of Long Island would say that in the fifties. People could walk anywhere at any time of the day or night. We would return late from a party and walk across town. It was a very safe, almost totally a middle-class town."

While people identified with their local town, the various spots along the shore—Freeport, Baldwin, Oceanside, and Rockville Centre among them—all bled into one another. Class distinctions blurred as well. Professional families, like Reed's, lived on the same street as blue-collar families who owned the local shops or worked in service industries like plumbing and heating. It was an era before McMansions and the conspicuous display of wealth. Economic gradations existed, of course—a nicer car, a maid, ownership of a boat—but they were subtle and people didn't feel the need to make an issue of them. "I don't think any of us thought about someone's house not being as nice as someone else's," said Judy November, who was Reed's lab partner in high school, when her last name was Titus. "It was a different time; we were less materialistic about things. But all my friends, I thought, were economically comfortable."

If you weren't an old money family with the heritage and social cachet to show for it—and none of the families in Freeport were—your wealth or lack of it was a private matter. Even the competitive suburban ethic of "keeping up with the Joneses" was less about materialistic warfare than about maintaining the calm equilibrium of prosperous conformity that had brought everyone out there to begin with. Any sign of decay or indifference—an untended lawn, a battered car, a peeling paint job—evoked unsettling memories of the anonymous, teeming clamor and frightening disrepair of the city. In that regard, every family had to pull its weight in order to maintain the uniform and controlled demeanor that was the hallmark of suburban life. Anyone who could manage to scrape together $10,000 to buy a home in the area was likely to be "comfortable" or "middle class," to use two of the vague expressions Americans employed at that time—and since that time—in order to blur class distinctions. And in the fifties, if you had arrived in a suburb like Freeport, you had planted your stake in the soil of the American dream. Even today, Freeport looks much as it did back then. The homes have been spruced up and expanded a bit, but not torn down for massive reconstructions. It's as if the houses themselves got the message: once you arrived in Freeport, you were there to stay. What was there needed to be maintained, but nothing more was required.

ACCORDING TO ALLAN HYMAN, Reed's father was "a quiet guy. Very reserved. I viewed him as fairly strict. He set up boundaries for his family and his son. He wouldn't tolerate people cursing in front of him. He had middle-class values and he wanted everybody to act appropriately. He wanted Lou to respect him and his mother. That's the way he was. My father was similar. They were very conservative. They expected that we would behave ourselves at the dinner table and we would dress a certain way.

"I had a lot of friends whose parents were very involved with their kids in sports and stuff. They were people you could go out and toss a ball with. My father and Lou's father were not like that. Lou's father was much more cerebral. He was also very penurious. Typically, when I went out to dinner with my friends' parents, they would always pay. But when I went with Lou and his parents, they would expect me to pay my share. Like, 'You had the hamburger. You owe a dollar fifty.'" As for Toby, Hyman said, "If you wanted to cast somebody as a fifties housewife living in the suburbs with an apron, taking care of her husband and children, that was Lou's mother. The ultimate wife. She was really attractive, gracious, friendly—a very nice person. She was one of those women who, when I was there, would always ask if I wanted anything to eat. She would bring me milk and cookies." Richard Sigal, another of Reed's Long Island friends, agreed. "I never got to know Lou's father very well," he said. "But Lou's mother—not only was she beautiful, but she was always very nice to me." Reed's sister, Bunny, described her mother as an "anxious individual throughout her life" who "took a traditional role with my father, always staying subservient to him."


  • "If the goal of a biography is to bring its subject back to life, Lou Reed, DeCurtis's sympathetic but never fawning book, succeeds...Carefully researched and thoughtfully written, Lou Reed is the best Reed biography to date."New York Times Book Review
  • "DeCurtis has given us a thorough and vivid portrait of an artist who, he shows us, was even darker than we knew."—The New York Review of Books
  • "Anthony DeCurtis was one of the few music critics Lou Reed read and whose company he enjoyed. After reading this sublime and subtle book, the mystery of Lou's respect for Anthony is revealed. Anthony is a great story teller, a writer's writer, turning pain into beauty the way Lou did in his songs."— Bono
  • "I am personally familiar with the depth, seriousness and sensitivity of Anthony DeCurtis's writing, and, of course, knew Lou Reed and felt the impact of his coruscating work. A brilliant artist has found a biographer with the insight to, as Lou said, "pass through fire" and be a definitive interpreter of both his music and his life."—Sting
  • "Lou Reed is Lou Reed!" Iggy Pop
  • "An eloquent account of a harrowing life transformed by love in the end. Anthony DeCurtis does a brilliant job of synthesizing the disparate parts of Lou Reed's life into an insightful, moving narrative. I highly recommend it."—Suzanne Vega
  • "When most people think of Lou Reed, they picture the black, rotting heart of rock and roll, full of dissonance, decadence and decay. But as Anthony DeCurtis makes clear in his new book, behind the image and the rumors, Lou was one thing: a writer, a man who spent his life telling the absolute, painful truth in his songs - the truth about himself, the scenes he observed, and the world at large. His words were so powerful that the Velvet Underground had to invent a new musical language to match them. I'm not the first musician to pledge allegiance to Lou and the Velvets, and I won't be the last. Read this book, and explore the f*cking genius that was Lou Reed."—Peter Buck, co-founder and lead guitarist of R.E.M.
  • "Anthony DeCurtis captures the soul and the essence of Lou Reed in his terrific new biography of the brilliant, culture-shaping musician. DeCurtis' great gift of storytelling gives fascinating insight and perspective to Reed's complex personality and cutting-edge musical talent. This is a must read."— Clive Davis
  • "The Reed of DeCurtis' exhaustively reported book is a brilliant artist who helped define hipness and the outer limits of rock for generations."—Rolling Stone
  • "How did a middle-class suburban boy grow up to be king of Manhattan's wild side? Thanks to this groundbreaking biography, now we know. Anthony DeCurtis handles Reed's often-misunderstood bisexuality and curiosity about transsexualism with particular sensitivity, candor, and sophistication. A must-read for fans of rock and roll, New York City, or sex."—Ada Calhoun, author of St.Marks Is Dead
  • "DeCurtis' biography makes a case for Reed's influence that's as durable as black leather."—San Francisco Chronicle
  • "Lou Reed was one of music's most brilliant and complicated figures-an explorer, a provocateur, and always a true artist. With grace and grit, Anthony DeCurtis has delivered a revelatory and insightful chronicle of this most challenging rock & roll icon, and Lou Reed gets the biographer he deserves."— Alan Light, author of The Holy or the Broken
  • "A fascinating portrait. The unsurpassed voice of New York has found a worthy biographer."— Philip Norman, New York TimesBestselling author of Paul McCartney andJohn Lennon
  • "Focusing on the music as much as the singer's often dissolute lifestyle and controversial opinions, the author makes a good case for Reed's lasting significance. ... A well-written, valuable document of a major figure in the American rock scene, putting a human face on a man who often seemed impossibly remote. Essential reading for Reed fans and strongly recommended for anyone interested in rock as art."—Kirkus (Starred Review)
  • "Even though he counted Reed among his friends in the music business, DeCurtis pulls no punches; for example, he talks about Reed's early sexual promiscuity in highly critical terms and is equally frank in discussing Reed's drug and alcohol abuse. This is a rough-edged, straight-talking biography of a man who became a legend as much for his offstage life as for his musical skills."—Booklist
  • "Among the first ambitious posthumous biographies of the sexually fluid queer icon, who died in 2013 at the age of 71. DeCurtis strives to take Reed's deep flaws into account along with his transgressive genius."—W Magazine
  • "An absorbing read, full of new insights delivered masterfully by DeCurtis."—Pitchfork
  • "A Life is comprehensive and sympathetic... For Mr. DeCurtis, Reed's biographical Rosebud was homosexual shame deriving from his upbringing. In the end, he didn't want to be the first gay rock star."—Wall Street Journal

On Sale
Oct 23, 2018
Page Count
528 pages
Back Bay Books

Anthony DeCurtis

About the Author

Anthony DeCurtis is a contributing editor for Rolling Stone, where his work has appeared for more than thirty-five years, and a distinguished lecturer in the creative writing program at the University of Pennsylvania. He is the author of In Other Words and Rocking My Life Away and the cowriter of Clive Davis’s autobiography, The Soundtrack of My Life, a New York Times bestseller. DeCurtis is a Grammy Award winner and has served as a member of the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame nominating committee for twenty-five years. He holds a PhD in American literature and lives in New York City.

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