September 1974 Lou Reed photographed by Oliviero Toscani
“I know my obituary has already been written,” Lou Reed told one interviewer with resignation. “And it starts out: Doot, di-doot, di-doot...” Was there ever a song like Walk on the Wild Side? Taking only its title from Nelson Algren’s Depression-era novel, it sprang fully formed into life in 1972, a groundbreaking anthem for weird and wonderful times. It was a paean to the underbelly of s ociety, a g littering parade of f reaks, hustlers, wannabe ar tists and transgender starlets who plucked their eyebrows while hitching a ride to New York City. Self-proclaimed ‘superstars’, nobodies, anybodies, who sold their souls (possibly more) to be in Andy Warhol’s eye-line: Holly Woodlawn, Candy Darling, Viva, ‘Little’ Joe Dallesandro who ‘never once gave it away’. (A further sign of those disjointed times: record label RCA issued a version in the U.S. which edited out Reed’s reference to ‘colored girls’ but kept in the one about oral sex.)
A few years before Toscani ’s L’Uomo Vogue portrait, Reed w as still t he driving f orce behind The Velvet Underground. His s ongs about l ife on t he margins soaked in reverb and feedback, and with his croaking staccato del ivery a cross between Bob Dylan and the Marquis de Sade, as one cr it ic put it, e arned h im t he moniker ‘ the Godfather o f Punk’ - a t erm t he i rascible Reed l oathed.
Reed must have liked Toscani’s image, however, because he used it a year later for Lou Reed Live (1975). And why not? It placed him f irmly in his by now comfortable milieu: studded leather jacket, shades, pale, drawn and vampiric demeanor. Beneath the trilby hat, Reed sported one of those peculiar haircuts that only he could pull of f. His once bleached-blond hair shaved into a tonsure, a Toscani prof ile shot was put onto the back of the album cover.
L’Uomo Vogue must have like Toscani’s portrait too. They used i t again, as a cover in 2008, to celebrate the magazine’s 40th a nniversary. A t rue original, the self-proclaimed ‘Rock’n’Roll Animal’.