I don’t plan on buying very many books these days. A far cry from my childhood when my mom used to complain that I spent any money she gave me on books instead of other, lesser things! Once, she gave me money and made me attend a movie with neighbors, when I would have much rather bought some books with the scratch!
But drop me in the middle of the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia on the top of Big Walker Mountain in a general store that was obviously the cultural hub for a 25 mile radius, and show me a Lou Reed book in the “local authors” section of the book racks, surrounded by rooms of kitsch folk art… that’s signed by the author? Bucko, I’m on that like white on rice! The universe was obviously trying to tell me something and I would have been a fool to ignore it!
Bettye Kronstad: Perfect Day; An Intimate portrait Of Life With Lou Reed
I had read a Lou Reed biography years ago. Was it the Victor Bockris “Transformer” book [1st edition]? Maybe, but that was years back and this book was written by Bettye Kronstad; Reed’s first wife. She met him as a young college student in NYC in the fading embers of 1968. She memorably recounts meeting him in an elevator where Reed tried to impress her by acting like an imperious jerk and slapping her rear. As if he were doing her a favor. From meager beginnings, she eventually found herself falling for the moody artist. Ms. Kronstad writes about Reed inviting her to his last performance with The Velvet Underground in August of 1970, and this was the point at which their relationship began.
Ms. Kronstad writes of that fateful concert at Max’s Kansas City:
“The band played notoriously loud, and Cale’s droning climbed over, around, and through us, yet you could also hear Lou singing – screaming, really, over the instruments. Lewis sang his heart out – sometimes, I could have sworn, right at me. It was a bit intimidating.” – Bettye Kronstad
This would all be fine except for the salient fact that by August of 1970, John Cale had been gone from The VU for nearly two years. He had been fired from the band after a show at The Boston Tea Party in September of 1968. Okay, so this was that kind of book. One where facts were not checked in this editor-free hell which we now inhabit. There are no writers any more; only bloggers. Hell, bloggers are an endangered species! We just have tweets now.
So the book goes on to recount in reconstructed conversations the nearly four years in which Ms. Kronstad and Reed were in a erratic orbit of each other as Reed left The Velvet Underground, worked for his father’s business, and ultimately made his name as a solo performer [eventually]. The dialogues contained within the book depict the mercurial Reed as a tortured, emotionally insecure artist who bluffed his way through life to protect his damaged core to the best of his ability, which often saw people as collateral damage.In the mean time, while attempting to work in theater, Ms. Kronstad got sucked up into the Lou Reed machine to the extent that she an Lou lived together for several years as Reed came to depend on her for emotional stability while she was barely out of her teens at the time.
Given that I can’t begin to remember anything that I say to someone the next day, never mind 48 years later, the conceit of the book to recount exchanges [complete with her inner thoughts in parenthesis, of course] is entirely suspect to my eyes in the veracity department. Where I grant the book license to do this in in its very title. It was, after all, an intimate portrait of Lou Reed; not a biography. While the exchanges here may or may not have happened, the emotional truth of the on-again, off-again bouts of emotional and chemical dependency between she and Reed do have the whiff of truth to them. Reed is depicted as a potentially monstrous, destructive force who ultimately has allegiance only to his art.
David Bowie came into Reed’s orbit near the middle point in their relationship, to help him make “Transformer,” the album that made hm a star with the unlikeliest early 70s hit possible. Ms. Kronstad’s impressions of Bowie are fascinating as being one of “the women” she found herself on the margins along with Angie Bowie while “the men” plotted their moves. She paints him as an intellectual and remote creative, who related to Reed as if he was another of Bowies art projects, instead of an actual influence.
Along the way the lines of cocaine that Ms. Kronstad was fine with gave way to the demon in the bottle, Johnny Walker Red, who ultimately kept pushing her away from Reed even as she became his lighting director and emotional crutch by the end of their time together. Like many drug users, she “drew the line” at needles, only to see Reed succumb many times over their relationship. Ironically, they finally married near the end of their tumultuous relationship, around the time of Reed’s “Berlin” album. Ms. Kronstadt was comfortable with a song like “Perfect Day” recounting the details of their life together, but when Reed used her painful family history as the grist for “Berlin’s” harrowing narrative, then she finally came to the point where she had to leave Reed, who had also become physically abusive by that point.
That wasn’t the end of the tale, though. Reed’s manager talked her into accompanying Reed on his crashing and burning “Berlin” tour where the star found his “Transformer” currency all spent up in a haze of ill will on all sides. She was expected to “mind” the erratic Reed and direct his concert lighting until she walked out on him, finally, in Paris in 1973. The doomed relationship depicted here seemed to set the tone for the self-destructive Reed throughout much of the seventies.
While I doubt things played out exactly as depicted here, Reed was depicted with both light and shadow with all of his personal strengths [noted] vying for attention with his very worst tendencies [impossible to ignore]. In that, I suspect that this is the book to read if one wanted to know not exactly the ironclad facts of Reed’s life in that tumultuous ’70-’73 period, but instead wanted to know how it actually felt to be around Lou Reed at that point in his life.
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