Aidan Levy’s Lou Reed biography, Dirty Blvd. (The Life and Music of Lou Reed), was fantastic. It was a a great career overview that examined everything from his work with the Velvets to his lesser known solo albums. It was well written, a few steps above the usual rock book, and should interest anyone that is even the slightest Lou fan, or anyone that is interested in late 20th century pop culture.
Most rock biographies make the following mistakes:
- They make the childhood part excruciatingly boring: Levy not only makes Reed’s childhood interesting, but makes us understand how it influenced him later in life.
- They talk down to their readers: I’ve read a lot of rock biographies that seem like they were written with junior high kids in mind. Especially for someone that was so literary, it just wouldn’t do for Reed’s work. Levy writes a book worthy of his subject. If anything there are occasional moments where the language could be slightly less pretentious, though it is not nearly as bad as some reviews make it out to be.
- They focus only on the most popular works of an artist: Therefore all the books end up covering the same information. Levy touches upon all of Reed’s work, even lesser known solo albums like Growing Up in Public. You get a true sense of the arc of Reed’s career from this book. A studio album had to be important to an artist at the time they were working on it, or it would have never seen the light of day. Most writers focus on what they think people want to hear, not what people need to hear. Growing Up in Public, for instance, lyrically pointed in the direction that Reed would go in with greater musical success on The Blue Mask and Legendary Hearts. It was the last of Reed’s albums to feature his 70’s band. He had already started growing as a lyricist, but it wasn’t until he streamlined his band, hiring Robert Quine and Fernando Saunders, that his music came to reflect the gritty realism of his lyrics.
Reed was one of the most important artists of the 20th century and this book is a great look at his life. You can’t go wrong here. I could say more, but there is no need to. Go get this book if you find yourself even momentarily interested in its subject.