(Orion, £14.99)

Review: "Lou reed: The life", By Mick Wall

A new biography of Lou Reed captures his creativity and turbulence but feels rushed

This is a world where eulogies pour forth instantly in 140 characters, speed is of the essence; but speed does not lend itself to reflection, and that is what biography demands. A self-avowedly “speed-written” tribute dashed off since Lou Reed’s demise, this book is hobbled by haste, littered with errors grammatical and factual that an editor ought to have amended.

At one point Phil Spector’s name is spelt as if he is a ghost; at another, it’s claimed that Reed and John Cale took the title of Sacher-Masoch’s Venus In Furs as the name for their new group, when obviously it was taken from Michael Leigh’s The Velvet Underground. Not that the discography even acknowledges the existence of the group’s first four seminal albums, for some reason only beginning in 1970, by which time Reed had left the band. These are simple oversights which should have been picked up, but equally frustrating is the way that the narrative dashes swiftly past segments over which you’d prefer the lens to  linger longer, notably the Warhol Factory era, the split with Cale, and the late marriage to performance artist Laurie Anderson.

Which is a shame, as Mick Wall otherwise does a decent job of conveying Reed’s contrarian, misanthropic spirit and his self-sabotaging tendencies (most spectacularly when following his biggest US solo success, Sally Can’t Dance, with the all-but unlistenable musique concrete double-album Metal Machine Music). Always out of step with, if not deliberately antagonistic to, contemporary trends, Reed and The Velvet Underground were dark, seedy, monochrome and ugly when pop became a dayglo paisley love-in; and as Altamont and the Manson Family soured the hippie dream, they turned perversely sweet and light: small wonder all their records were resounding commercial flops, a trend Reed struggled to reverse in his subsequent career. Though hugely influential, he has possibly the poorest ratio of hits to reputation of any rock musician, a measure perhaps of the aesthetic intensity of his vision.

The third child of a middle-class Jewish family, Reed was always an outsider – so much so that in hopes of “curing” his teenage homosexual tendencies, his father committed him to a mental hospital. There he underwent the electro-shock therapy that left him with short-term memory loss, and the shakes that – to the consternation of contract lawyers – rendered each signature different. His first artistic mentor was the poet Delmore Schwartz, who taught Reed’s creative writing class at Syracuse University; but his first musical endeavour was cranking out hack pop-songs for supermarket albums.

It was whilst churning out this dross that Reed came up with the bogus dance-craze spoof “Do the Ostrich”, for which he tuned all his guitar strings to the same note – a technique later employed to create the characteristic Velvet Underground drone. He and John Cale first joined forces for a promotional TV performance for the record, the line-up completed by avant-garde musician Tony Conrad and sculptor Walter de Maria. This eventually mutated into the Velvets, whose cachet was confirmed when Warhol took them under his wing, as the centrepiece of his “Exploding Plastic Inevitable” happenings.

The Warhol Factory crowd provided Reed with the cast of low-life demi-monde characters that would people his songs, most notably his breakthrough solo hit “A Walk on the Wild Side”, the fruit of an alliance with yet another mentor, David Bowie. Typically at odds with what Wall calls the “joss stick and hessian ambience” of the era’s prevailing singer-songwriter trend, the resulting Transformer album was poorly received on its initial release, until the single launched Reed on a wobbly career path pitted with drug addiction, polymorphous sexuality and self-sabotage. It was only years later, when Warhol’s death spurred the songwriter to deeper reflection upon those former friends and colourful characters in the albums New York and Magic and Loss, that Reed’s critical reputation would finally be secured.

It seems entirely apt that his final recorded testament should be another bad-taste blast, the Wedekind-influenced collaboration with heavy rockers Metallica detailing the grisly abasements suffered by Lulu. Always seeking the art in dirt, he remained true to his vision to the end.

"Lou reed: The life" By Mick Wall (Orion, £14.99) Order at the discounted price of£11.99 inc. p&p from independent.co.uk/bookshop or call 0843 0600 030

Arts and Entertainment
Cillian Murphy stars as Tommy Shelby in Peaky Blinders

TV
Arts and Entertainment
The cast of The Big Bang Theory in a still from the show

TV
Arts and Entertainment

art
Arts and Entertainment
Rupert Murdoch and Rebekah Brooks in 2011

Review: A panoramic account of the hacking scandal

books
Arts and Entertainment
Adèle Exarchopoulos and Léa Seydoux play teeneage lovers in the French erotic drama 'Blue Is The Warmest Colour' - The survey found four times as many women admitting to same-sex experiences than 20 years ago

TV
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Comedian Jack Dee has allegedly threatened to quit as chairman of long-running Radio 4 panel show 'I’m Sorry I Haven’t A Clue'

Edinburgh Festival
Arts and Entertainment
Director Paul Thomas Anderson (right) and his movie The Master featuring Joaquin Phoenix

film
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Christian Grey cradles Ana in the Fifty Shades of Grey film

film
Arts and Entertainment
There are no plans to replace R Kelly at the event

music
Arts and Entertainment
<p><strong>Laura
Carmichael- Lady Edith Crawley</strong></p>
<p>Carmichael currently stars as Sonya in the West End production of
Chekhov’s Uncle Vanya at the Vaudeville Theatre. She made headlines this autumn
when Royal Shakespeare Company founder Sir Peter Hall shouted at her in a
half-sleepy state during her performance. </p>
<p>Carmichael made another appearance on the stage in 2011, playing
two characters in David Hare’s <em>Plent</em>y
at the Crucible Theatre in Sheffield. </p>
<p>Away from the stage she starred as receptionist Sal in the 2011
film <em>Tinker Tailor Solider Spy</em>. </p>

TV
Arts and Entertainment

film
Arts and Entertainment
Zoe Saldana admits she's

TV
Arts and Entertainment
'Old Fashioned' will be a different kind of love story to '50 Shades'
film
Arts and Entertainment

film
Arts and Entertainment
The Great British Bake Off contestants line-up behind Sue and Mel in the Bake Off tent

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Mitch Winehouse is releasing a new album

music
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Beast would strip to his underpants and take to the stage with a slogan scrawled on his bare chest whilst fans shouted “you fat bastard” at him

music
Arts and Entertainment
On set of the Secret Cinema's Back to the Future event

film
Arts and Entertainment
Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman

film
Arts and Entertainment
Pedro Pascal gives a weird look at the camera in the blooper reel

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Public vote: Art Everywhere poster in a bus shelter featuring John Hoyland
art
Arts and Entertainment
Peter Griffin holds forth in The Simpsons Family Guy crossover episode

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Judd Apatow’s make-it-up-as-you-go-along approach is ideal for comedies about stoners and slackers slouching towards adulthood
filmWith comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on
Arts and Entertainment
booksForget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks
Arts and Entertainment
Off set: Bab El Hara
tvTV series are being filmed outside the country, but the influence of the regime is still being felt
Arts and Entertainment
Red Bastard: Where self-realisation is delivered through monstrous clowning and audience interaction
comedy
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Dress the Gaza situation up all you like, but the truth hurts

    Robert Fisk on Gaza conflict

    Dress the situation up all you like, but the truth hurts
    Save the tiger: Tiger, tiger burning less brightly as numbers plummet

    Tiger, tiger burning less brightly

    When William Blake wrote his famous poem there were probably more than 100,000 tigers in the wild. These days they probably number around 3,200
    5 News's Andy Bell retraces his grandfather's steps on the First World War battlefields

    In my grandfather's footsteps

    5 News's political editor Andy Bell only knows his grandfather from the compelling diary he kept during WWI. But when he returned to the killing fields where Edwin Vaughan suffered so much, his ancestor came to life
    Lifestyle guru Martha Stewart reveals she has flying robot ... to take photos of her farm

    Martha Stewart has flying robot

    The lifestyle guru used the drone to get a bird's eye view her 153-acre farm in Bedford, New York
    Former Labour minister Meg Hillier has demanded 'pootling lanes' for women cyclists

    Do women cyclists need 'pootling lanes'?

    Simon Usborne (who's more of a hurtler) explains why winning the space race is key to happy riding
    A tale of two presidents: George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story

    A tale of two presidents

    George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story
    Save the tiger: The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

    The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

    With only six per cent of the US population of these amazing big cats held in zoos, the Zanesville incident in 2011 was inevitable
    Samuel Beckett's biographer reveals secrets of the writer's time as a French Resistance spy

    How Samuel Beckett became a French Resistance spy

    As this year's Samuel Beckett festival opens in Enniskillen, James Knowlson, recalls how the Irish writer risked his life for liberty and narrowly escaped capture by the Gestapo
    We will remember them: relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War

    We will remember them

    Relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War
    Star Wars Episode VII is being shot on film - and now Kodak is launching a last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

    Kodak's last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

    Director J J Abrams and a few digital refuseniks shoot movies on film. Simon Usborne wonders what the fuss is about
    Once stilted and melodramatic, Hollywood is giving acting in video games a makeover

    Acting in video games gets a makeover

    David Crookes meets two of the genre's most popular voices
    Could our smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases via Health Kit and Google Fit?

    Could smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases?

    Health Kit and Google Fit have been described as "the beginning of a health revolution"
    Ryanair has turned on the 'charm offensive' but can we learn to love the cut-price carrier again?

    Can we learn to love Ryanair again?

    Four recent travellers give their verdicts on the carrier's improved customer service
    Billionaire founder of Spanx launches range of jeans that offers

    Spanx launches range of jeans

    The jeans come in two styles, multiple cuts and three washes and will go on sale in the UK in October
    10 best over-ear headphones

    Aural pleasure: 10 best over-ear headphones

    Listen to your favourite tracks with this selection, offering everything from lambskin earmuffs to stainless steel