Although he wrote a song insisting he was just an Average Guy - "Average in everything I do/ My temperature is 98.2" - Reed was anything but, and that's made clear in this excellent, well-researched biography.
Brilliant, sensitive, cruel, cantankerous, controlling - Reed was the definition of the Difficult Rock Star.

DeCurtis first met his subject in an airport in 1995. Reed recognised him as a Rolling Stone writer who had reviewed his album New York six years' earlier .
Reed asked - "How many stars did you give it?". "Four." "Shoulda been five," said Reed.
DeCurtis doesn't make too much of his personal connection to Reed but he's gained access to many of Reed's key collaborators - getting interviews from Bowie before he died, Reed's first two wives and fellow journalists and record company staffers who had the misfortune to be assigned to Reed.

One, Jeff Gold, describes dealing with Reed as a "Me burger with I sauce" experience.

"It was all about Lou. Lou did what Lou wanted to do on Lou's timetable."


While DeCurtis does a creditable job with the Velvet Underground material the book really comes alive when detailing Reed's solo career; his descent into speed addiction and his life in the erotic underworld of 70s New York.

DeCurtis gets to the heart of Reed's troubled relationship with a street-hustling transvestite called Rachel - to whom Reed dedicated one of his most romantic songs Coney Island Baby;
"Reed... found in her someone whose secret life rivalled or ...even exceeded his own."

He points out how Reed was ahead of his time on gender issues - although once Reed got sober in the 80s he would identify as heterosexual.
Fans will love the details DeCurtis uncovers - Reed preferred Johnnie Walker Red to expensive bottles of single malts which he'd give away; after his wedding to Sylvia Morales the party hit a pinball arcade.

More revealing is an anecdote by journalist Howard Bowman. Whilst on an interview in 1992 Bowman accompanied Reed to an ATM in New York. Inside a homeless man was sleeping which enraged Reed - the poet of urban underground - who promptly went into the branch, complained and had him removed.

Despite Reed's contradictions and polarising nature – he could go from self-aggrandisement to self-loathing in a heart-beat - DeCurtis makes a strong case for the work. Not only the celebrated Velvet's output but also key records like The Blue Mask, Berlin and The Bells from Reed's often maligned solo career.
The result is the most revealing and incisive work on Reed yet.

Lou Reed A Life
Anthony DeCurtis (John Murray $37.99)