Golden Oldies Rachel Johnson
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.