I thought I would write you a letter, let you know what went on when I wrote my book about you, after I heard of your death. Books are different. Not like newspapers, or TV programmes, or radio tributes, or online obituaries. All those things can come tumbling down the wire when a famous person dies. Put it in a book, though, and people look at you say you’re obscene.
Claim you only did it for the money. Well, you and me know all about that Lou. Of course we did it for the money. That’s how we survive. Like when you hooked-up with Bowie and made Transformer. Man, you were on your uppers but you pulled it out of the bag. Do what you gotta do, as you sang on ‘I Love You Suzanne’.
Writing books that people don’t buy won’t feed my children or give my wife that replacement CD player in the car for the one that’s broken. So of course I did it for the money. I do all my books for the money. There isn’t a word I’ve written for 35 years that wasn’t for the money.
In this case though, when I wrote my book about you, there was something else, as you well know. I was putting part of my entire record-buying, music-loving life on the line.
The day I was walking home from school in the pissing rain and Stokey made fun because I was carrying a copy of Transformer under my arm.
“What a load of rubbish,” he sneered, and Stokey was the authority on album music back then. I hid my face in shame and kept walking. What else could I do?
Or the time my mother walked in while I was listening to ‘The Kids’ on Berlin, alarmed at the sound of the kids all howling so pitifully. Wow. How do you explain that kind of pop music to your mum? I didn’t know. Just endured the face she pulled as I showed her the album sleeve.
“Just turn it down, will ya? Your father’s trying to sleep.”
Or those times a few years later when me and Mick and Sandy and Pete would sit and argue over the merits of Growing Up In Public or Rock And Roll Heart. Man, those were hard albums to love. I knew what the others were talking about as they dismissed them as second rate junkie dreams.
“He only does albums now for the money,” said Sandy and, well, he was probably right.
“You wait,” I said, not really believing it, “One day we’ll be looking back on these albums the same way we do now the Velvet Underground albums. Everybody thought they were shit too when they first came out.”
They all looked at me doubtfully. Very, very doubtfully. And I wonder if even now Lou you don’t agree a little bit too.
Or all those times, in Paranoid days, when ‘The Black Angel’s Death Song’ or ‘Beginning To See The Light’ or ‘Sister Ray’, or anything you crazy fucker did really, became the permanent midnight soundtracks for my own ‘psychic explorations’, let’s put it that way. You know what I mean, Lou. I learned it all from you, after all. You and William Burroughs and Keith Richards.
Here’s something I don’t think I ever told you about before, though, Lou. That summer back in 1977 between my first rejection letters from Sounds magazine and my first review getting published – that rotten 10 months when I could have gone any direction except the one I really wanted – one of the things that made me more determined than ever to somehow find my way into that place, was the three-part piece Giovanni Dadomo wrote in Sounds on the history of the Velvet Underground.
Lou, that was real street poetry, as good as yours, and you know it. It came as no surprise to learn later that Gio was one of the only rock journalists you could ever stand.
Well, guess what, about five years ago, I was browsing through this old-issues list, a grown man looking up old stories from his youth for whatever book I was writing for the money at the time, and I came across the Giovanni 1977 three-part feature. They only had parts 2 and 3 and they were going for about £20 each but fuck that I HAD to have them. So I mailed them, sent them my money, and when that package arrived in the post days later I spent hours on my grown up own devouring each and every word, unable to tell which was greater, Gio’s magic writing or your magic story.
Then sitting alone in front of the TV, watching you and Metallica go at it on the Jools Holland show, doing ‘Iced Honey’, from the FANTASTIC Lulu album, the album I reviewed in Classic Rock and gave 10/10 to then was told that was ridiculous and to rewrite the review, with an absolute maximum rating of 7/10 if I really, really had to. Which I did, giving it 7/10, but still meaning 10/10.
Until that Sunday, Lou, when my friend Harry, not a Lou Reed fan but knowing me well enough to understand what the news would mean to me, texted to let me know you had died. And how it hurt. How it felt. How much I desperately wanted to write something about it. Yes, for the money. Of course, for the money. Always for the money, like everything, right Lou?
Then reading those nothing little snips with their snotty reviews, people like that U2 groupie Neil McCormick in The Telegraph, still hung up because Bono won’t return his calls anymore. And by the way, did you know Neil once played in a band? That’s right, you can read about it in every fucking thing he writes. The kind of cunt we’re talking about. Woulda run a mile had he seen the real you, Lou, and me coming, waving our needles.
Or that other anal joke in the Sunday TImes, Waldemar Januszczak, all bent out of shape because he once had dinner with Lou and droning on about how well he knew Lou and what a nice fucking guy he was.
I bet you smiled indulgently when you read your dear friend telling people that, right Lou? That fat little starfucker, writing his boring reviews for the money, all for the money, kind of trip you woulda stepped on in the old days, look behind you fatty.
Then today, as the paperback version of my book, Lou Reed: The Life, is published, feeling justified and glad and deeply relieved that I got to write what it was I had to say. For the money. And the sheer fuck of it.
Because I loved you, Lou. I still do.