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Notes from the Velvet Underground: The Life…
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Notes from the Velvet Underground: The Life of Lou Reed (2015)

by Howard Sounes

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The Life of Lou Reed: Notes from the Velvet Underground from Howard Sounes is, like most biographies, both enlightening and maddening. That is the nature of the beast. As biographies go, especially of someone as volatile and private as Lou Reed, this volume succeeds far more than it fails. I wasn't aware when I started the book that it is a reprint. That doesn't really matter much, I just thought I'd let potential readers know.

I have read a couple of other biographies of Reed, one quite good but older and one, like this one written after his death, that was more like an extensive wiki entry. Of the three, this is by far the best and most comprehensive. That said, there are certainly gaps and holes from a lack of information. Since Laurie Anderson chose not to participate, there is a lot that might have shed light on the later Reed that we still don't know.

I was a fan of Reed's since the Underground days, but didn't really get into the music more seriously until Reed went solo. At that time I developed an interest in him and went back to the older work and rediscovered it. Many listeners came to the Underground through Reed's later music and, while technically not the case for me, probably most accurately relates my appreciation of the overall body of work. So, background explained, on to the book.

It is hard to read negative comments about people whose work you have come to admire. But many of his old acquaintances, friends, lovers, bandmates, etc highlight his bad traits alongside his creative abilities so it is what it is. I don't find Sounes as negative as some readers do, he simply relayed the remembrances as they were told to him. I also don't feel he gave any disrespect to Laurie Anderson either. What he could write about her was limited to what was largely already known since she didn't participate. And yes, I think she is immensely talented and I am a fan of both audio and video work she has done, so I am a fan of hers as well.

The research Sounes did for this book is extensive and will be foundational for much that may be written later as some of these figures pass away.

I would recommend this work to fans of Lou Reed and of the Velvet Underground, just understand that this is not a vanity project, it is an attempt to tell as much of his story as possible, blemishes and all. This is more of a journalistic style biography rather than a critically interpretive or analytical one. I do hope someone writes one of those one day, but until then I think this will be the best that we have. And, for what it seeks to do, it succeeds very well.

Reviewed from a copy made available by the publisher via NetGalley. ( )
  pomo58 | Aug 25, 2019 |
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Lou Reed, who died in 2013, was best known to the general public as the grumpy New Yorker in black who sang 'Walk on the Wild Side'. To his dedicated admirers, however, he was one of the most innovative and intelligent American song writers of modern times, a natural outsider who lived a tumultuous and tortured life. In this in-depth, meticulously researched and very entertaining biography, respected biographer Howard Sounes examines the life and work of this fascinating man, from birth to death, including his time as the leader of The Velvet Underground - one of the most important bands in rock'n'roll. Written with a deep knowledge and understanding of the music, Sounes also sheds entirely new light on the artist's creative process, his mental health problems, his bisexuality, his three marriages, and his addictions to drugs and alcohol. In the course of his research, Sounes has interviewed over 140 people from every part of Lou Reed's life - some of whom have not spoken publicly about him before - including music industry figures, band members, fellow celebrities, family members, former wives and lovers. This book brings Lou Reed and his world alive.… (more)

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