Golden Oldies Rachel John­son

The Oldie - - NEWS - ‘Notes from the Vel­vet Un­der­ground, The Life of Lou Reed’, by Howard Sounes, Pen­guin £9.99.

I nur­ture a the­ory that the more fa­mous and suc­cess­ful peo­ple are, the nicer they are. When­ever chal­lenged, I say, ‘Richard Cur­tis’. As for rock­ers – well, far from be­com­ing soured and spoilt, like old milk, I find many are sweet­ened by life.

They are clever enough to credit luck and tim­ing just as much as tal­ent and hard work for their for­tune and fame, and they feel – to use that hor­ri­ble word – ‘blessed’. Ev­ery rock star I’ve met has been humbly charm­ing de­spite decades of hav­ing to con­verse and com­mune with fans, which would drive any­one to drink, de­ter­mined never to make old bones.

I had break­fast with Bryan Adams in the sum­mer (sorry about the name­drop) af­ter he’d head­lined Corn­bury Fes­ti­val in Ox­ford­shire. He was a pop­pet – de­spite the fact that: 1. He is a global su­per­star; 2. Some­one had eaten the spe­cial­lypre­pared ve­gan repast left out for him by our host­ess Jemima Khan’s chef the night be­fore (it was, in fact, me).

In the morn­ing, Bryan told us that he was drink­ing cof­fee again (he said this as if it was big news), and how he likes it made, and then we all tried his spe­cial cof­fee, and he showed us his pic­ture of Gren­fell Tower on his phone, and you know what? He was a nor­mal guy, if a lit­tle on the small side, and his set was great (he did all his big hits and we all sang along, which is what you want).

Let’s see: David Crosby. Met him at a party. If I didn’t know he was of Crosby, Stills & Nash, I’d imag­ine him sell­ing antlers at a game fair: grin­ning, gnarly and rooted. Through David Gil­mour of Pink Floyd – and now there’s a truly nice man – I’ve met Jeff Beck, and the tall one from The Doors who played the key­boards, and one of Dire Straits. Each was de­light­ful and didn’t mind talk­ing to a mid­dle-aged woman who hasn’t a clue.

Which brings us to Notes from the Vel­vet Un­der­ground, a bi­og­ra­phy of the man who is the ex­cep­tion that proves the rule. Lou Reed. Fame didn’t change Reed, make him a bet­ter man. Born bad, he got worse. Nasty piece of work. He hit women; he was mean; he was tight. He wanted to be ‘queen bitch’ and en­joyed watching some­one beaten to death in a gay bar. Druggy, vi­o­lent, misog­y­nist, vile. He was the death of his par­ents.

But Reed did write Trans­former, a per­fect al­bum con­tain­ing ‘Per­fect Day’, ‘Walk on the Wild Side’ and ‘Satel­lite of Love’. Still one of the top 100 al­bums on any­one’s list.

By the end of his life he was mar­ried to artist Laurie An­der­son, who un­der­stood and loved him. ‘He could put Lou Reed on and take him off like one of his jack­ets,’ she said at his memo­rial ser­vice.

Chris­tian­ity teaches us to hate the sin and love the sin­ner. The les­son of the life of Lou Reed is clear: we can hate the singer but love their songs. Un­like most Golden Oldies, he didn’t per­fect the art of not be­ing what his friends, from the off, called him – a ‘com­plete prick’.

I al­most ad­mired him for it.

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