Book Week – Bettye Kronstad: Perfect Day; An Intimate Portrait Of Life With Lou Reed

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!

What The Cracker Barrel is desperately trying to be!

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!

Jawbone Press | 2016. | 280 pp

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.

Lou and Bettye

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.

Bettye lives today in Wytheville, VA

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.

– 30 –

About postpunkmonk

graphic design | software UI design | remastering vinyl • record collector • satire • non-fiction
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8 Responses to Book Week – Bettye Kronstad: Perfect Day; An Intimate Portrait Of Life With Lou Reed

  1. A very fine and kind review. Thanks for the look inside.


  2. diskojoe says:

    So you were in the Blue Ridge Mountains? My nephew attended VMI, which is in that area & it’s a very lovely place indeed.

    I enjoy reading these book reviews. One book that I would like to recommend is Sick on You by Andrew Matheson of Hollywood Brats semi-fame which was a pretty funny read.

    Finally, speaking of books about Lou Reed, I assisted Ritchie Unterberger in obtaing Boston area newspaper stories on the VU for his VU Day by Day book in my capacity of part time reference librarian & got thanked in the book. One of the said stories was a review of the 1st album that actually appeared in my hometown paper which was an amazing feat in 1967!


    • postpunkmonk says:

      diskojoe – I live (on a mountain) in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Western NC. But we were driving to Pipestem, VA to spend some time with the in-laws at the state park there. Wow someone actually reviewing the first VU album in 1967! Talk about a small club!!

      I occasionally have book reviews, but these were all read between Jan.-Sept. of last year and I had started the [still unfinished] OMD Rock GPA and I naively thought it wouldn’t take six months and by now was frantic to write these reviews and made a theme week out of them. Heck, I have begun to forget them already [as if you couldn’t tell by the writing…]. Thus my frantic resolve to do these quickly before I’d have to read them again!


  3. Bettye Kronstad says:

    Yes, the John Cale comment slipped through both editors and myself; that chapter was added to the original manuscript I submitted, and I regret the error, my apologies. Of course Cale wasn’t there at that time, but in the editing process after this chapter was added, it didn’t make the editing cuts. It’s an error, and a big one, granted, but it doesn’t necessarily follow that because there is one error, all the rest of the manuscript need be under suspicion. Quite a bit of extensive research was required to get all the dates and specific details correct as to my memory of events, and many months ware spent specifically on that task. And I couldn’t imagine that anyone would think that the conversations recorded in the book were to be taken literally; the dialogue used is a narrative device used to tell/move the story along, although often it was right on the money and always very, very close to the actual conversations I’m discussing.


    • postpunkmonk says:

      Bettye Kronstad – Welcome to the comments! I hear you. The Cale reference was an early red flag that got my guard up and perhaps triggered my skepticism from the beginning, but having stuck with your book I came to appreciate the emotional truth of the experience that you related of your years with him. Your book offered a perspective which was more intimate and unique than any other books available on his life. Lou Reed was a gifted, pivotal artist who dramatically expanded the vocabulary of rock to encompass adult, literary concerns and was first to market in doing it. That’s never a comfortable place to be. Yet at the end of the day, he was also a troubled man whose destructive defense mechanisms took their tolls on both both himself and those around him. By the end of the book, I marveled at your ability to leave him behind and move forward on your journey. I can’t imagine living with someone like that at so young an age, but Lou was probably a catalyst for your growth and maturation in his own way. Thanks so much for weighing in and clarifying the issues.

      I only ever saw Lou twice in the last decade of his life, when he seemed to have come to terms with the demons that drove him and he looked to be in a much better place. My wife and I attended that first 2008 concert with Annene Kaye, who used to write for New York Rocker, and she told us of Lou Reed reducing her to tears in his cruelty and I did not doubt her word at all. Yet, in spite of that, there she was, excitedly seeing Lou live with us for what must have been the nth time for her. Because he was that kind of artist.


  4. Bettye says:

    You are welcome and thank you for your positive observations/reactions to Perfect Day!


  5. Don Smith says:

    Ok I’m going to have to find and read this.

    I’m a Kiwi and like pretty well all my mates first heard Lou Reed via Transformer. My older brother was doing his OE (rite of passage) in London. He flatted with some record company or radio guy and got every record there was. He sent me Transformer and I listened to it and put it aside. Then one day, heard Walk on the Wild Side on the radio, and one thing led to another – thrashed that LP – love Perfect Day. Then RnR Animal, then a memorable live show in the mid-70’s (memorable for how out of it he was – singing mixed up variations of his songs). Then, and only then, VU’s catalogue. Saw him again in late 2000 in Australia – arrogant – clearly didn’t give a damn for his audience (fan base and paying customers Lou). Later saw the movie of Berlin @ St Ann’s Warehouse – that was more like it.

    So I have this view of a extraordinary artist, totally engrossed with himself. Possibly because of this, I’ve never had any interest in Lou’s personal life, but in the web’s inimitable way, have just been led to Bettye Kronstadt and here.

    I have to read this memoir. Thank you Monk, thank you Bettye.


    • postpunkmonk says:

      Don Smith – Welcome to the comments! It’s a book that really captures the crucial period in Lou Reed’s life when he finally became a star by the person who was there with him through it all. When we saw Lou in 2004 in Western North Carolina, he was not at all arrogant. Thankfully.


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