Writing music is not a 9 to 5 job - at least, it wasn't for Lou Reed. Like most songwriters, Lou collected myriad items like matchbook covers and cocktail napkins with bits of spontaneous lyrics scrawled on them, but these inspirations came on a direct channel straight from his brain.
He told The Guardian: "I have a radio in my head that's playing unrecorded things for me constantly, and I'm always listening to it for my own amusement. And by now I'm very familiar with the process of getting this stuff down and how to make things altogether easier for myself than I would even have guessed at in the past - when I really did not understand how this all works. But I don't come into an office and write - if I tried to do that it would be a real way of closing things down. I just leave it alone and as time gets shorter and shorter I ward off panic and the process starts."
Throughout his career, Reed earned a reputation for being rather prickly with journalists. When he was persuaded to give interviews, he often refused to answer questions or ignored the interviewer altogether. But by the '90s, trembling journalists felt more at ease with a kinder, gentler Lou. In fact, he insisted his legendary disdain was exaggerated by the press.
He told The Guardian in 1996: "All this stuff about me not liking journalists is not really accurate. It's just that I don't like talking about myself. Why would I? I mean, that's really work. I don't listen to my own stuff. Why should I? I already know my stuff. I would much rather listen to someone else."
Reed often cited the poet Delmore Schwartz as a major influence for his writing, specifically the short story "In Dreams Begin Responsibilities." He told Performing Songwriter: "Simple language, five pages, the most astonishing thing I have ever read to this day. It's just incredible. Imagine being able to do something like that with the simple language that is available to anybody. It's mind-bending. Now imagine putting it into a song. It's so simple, it's ridiculous."
Schwartz, who taught the singer at Syracuse University, actually hated music with lyrics, but that didn't stop Lou from dedicating songs to him like The Velvet Underground's "European Son" and his own "My House." He even wrote a prose piece for Poetry magazine in 2012 called "O Delmore How I Miss You."
To get out of military duty, Reed held a gun to his ROTC commanding officer's head at Syracuse University. It wasn't loaded but it did the trick. He was expelled from the program but managed to graduate with a Bachelor of Arts degree in 1964.
Before making it big in 1972 with "Walk On The Wild Side
," Reed was a principal member of the now-famous rock band the Velvet Underground. At the time, only a handful of people had ever heard of the band, but oh what a handful it was.
Iconic artist Andy Warhol, a forerunner of pop art, served as manager and made a lasting impression on Reed, who told Performing Songwriter
: "Compared to Warhol, I will always consider myself lazy. Because Andy said I was, and he was right. And look at what he did. It's endless. I mean, look at that body of work. I mean, that's incredible. But Andy, he would have said it wasn't incredible, he was just working. And he always said I was incredibly lazy. He thought I should be writing more."
If some of Lou Reed's fans are called dogs it's because they actually are. Lou and his wife, singer Laurie Anderson, entertained the canine crowd with a special concert at Australia's Vivid Live festival in 2010. They were inspired to create Music for Dogs after ten years of entertaining their rat terrier, Lolabelle, at home. Human attendees could only just barely pick up the high-frequency music formulated for their pets and were encouraged to let the dogs engage in typical concert shenanigans (though event organizers insisted the dogs remain on their leads). Laurie told The Guardian: "It's OK with me if they run in circles," she said. "They can [even] express themselves and make a little mosh pit if they feel like it."
Reed considered himself "beyond criticism," meaning there was nothing he could learn from critics. "I know what my shortcomings are," he told Bruce Pollock
. "What I expect to learn I learn from the audience. I've learned a lot of things from audiences. Sometimes I play these songs too long. And they let you know. Very often they're right."
Call him a sell-out if you want, but Reed didn't understand the fuss about his commercial for Honda scooters
(most of his fans liked it, anyway). He told GQ
in 1986: "If you really think about it, what does selling out mean? If you think of rock and roll as this antiestablishment rebellious-type thing, well, you wouldn't make a record. Look who's recording you – the same people who manufacture missiles. You could really start tearing it apart."
Under Lewis "Lou" Reed's 1959 yearbook photo from Freeport High School (in Long Island, NY) is the caption: "Tall, dark-haired Lou likes basketball, music, and naturally, girls. He was a valuable participant on the track team. He is one of Freeport's great contributors to the recording world. As for the immediate future, Lou has no plans, but will take life as it comes."
Just three years earlier, Lou suffered through electroconvulsive therapy (aka electroshock) in his parents' bid to eradicate his alleged bi-sexuality. The experience inspired his song "Kill Your Sons
According to Clash, Lou Reed and David Bowie got into a brawl over dinner in 1979 after Bowie told the temperamental singer to clean up his act. Reed shouted: "Don't you EVER say that to me! Don't you EVER f---ing say that to ME!"
Although he's credited for guitar, keyboards and vocals on his eponymous debut album, Gadfly magazine claims Reed didn't play at all, but left the music to British session musicians, including Yes' Steve Howe and Rick Wakeman.
A genus of velvet spider that lives underground was named by an international group of biologists Loureedia in reference to Reed's time in the Velvet Underground. Other rock stars that have had spiders named after them include the late Frank Zappa
and Neil Young
After quitting The Velvet Underground in August 1970, Lou Reed took a walk on the mild side, taking a job at his father's tax accounting firm as a typist. He returned to rock 'n' roll the following year when he signed a recording contract with RCA Records.
He is in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as both a solo artist and as a member of the Velvet Underground.
Lou Reed left a $30 million fortune in his will. The main beneficiary was his wife Laurie Anderson, to whom he left his $7 million Manhattan apartment, as well as a $1.5 million property in the exclusive Hamptons area of Long Island. She also received a cash sum of $15 million. The fortune speaks of careful management by Reed, as with the exception of "Walk On The Wild Side," he never had a big US hit.