Lou Reed & Mick Rock – Transformer – The Book

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From Genesis publications, comes a new book, shortly completed before his death in October 2013, that documents Lou Reed’s long standing collaboration with English rock photographer, Mick Rock

Lou Reed was one of the great figures of my formative years of discovering music. Like a first love,  music discovered at a young age seems to embed itself deeper in the heart than those that follow.  While not the first to discover Lou Reed’s music in my group of friends, as soon as I heard the opening bars of Vicious, I was transfixed, on both the music, and later the man and the image.  His death, at 71, forewarned by a liver transplant in early 2013,  and by lengthy periods of hard living, still came as a shock, and with a profound sense of loss, to those who followed and loved his music.

From the most tender of love songs, to the brutalism of Metal Machine Music

The Velvet Underground era.  Lou Reed’s time in the Velvet Underground is perhaps best known for the guitar feedback orientated first album, (the Velvet Underground and Nico) which, combined with the avant garde strangeness of songs like Venus in Furs, influenced countless generations of musicians. But for me, it’s the quieter songs on some of the later albums that mean most. Has there ever been a song as tender as Pale Blue Eyes, or Jesus, both from the third album?

The long lost Velvet’s album, due to be band’s second release on MGM, was finally released as VU in the early 80’s, and while Cale’s influence is largely absent, it still features many fine songs, in fact not a duff one among them, with “I Can’t Stand it”, “Stephanie Says”, and “I’m Sticking with you” being three standouts.  VU also benefits from vastly better sound quality than the more rudimentary earlier albums.

Lou Reed’s 1970’s solo work swings between the melodic Transformer, with more conventional song structures, combined with a vivid slice of life from the clubs, streets and transvestite scene of 70’s New York, to the follow-up, the more conceptual Berlin, and onwards to the experimentalism of Metal Machine Music.

Transformer, of course is the most well known of all Lou Reed and Velvet Underground albums, and conventional enough to spawn a bone fide hit in “Walk on the Wild Side”. My personal favourite is “Satellite of Love” with it’s soaring final chorus featuring collaborator David Bowie, and “Perfect Day”, though abused by many terrible cover versions over the years, still retains the power to stir the heart, with it’s evocation of a day in the park with a loved one (or heroin, depending on some theories).

Berlin, another favourite, while  critically savaged on it’s release in 1973, has been re-appraised and grown in stature in recent years, in part helped by Reed’s return to it as a live performance in the mid 2000’s.

None of the many other 1970’s records captured the magic of the earlier releases for me.  Like most, I’ve only been able to listen to about three minutes of the infamous, record company baiting “Metal Machine Music” (although even that album has it’s fans, Kevin Shields from My Bloody Valentine being one), but in 1989, Reed released an album, “New York” which married a return to first rate song writing with lyrical tales from the city, this time, documenting the spectre of Aids, environmental pollution, corrupt politicians and  televangelists.

“Songs for Drella” is perhaps the last great Reed album.  “Drella”, a sobriquet for Andy Warhol, saw Reed reunite uneasily with one time band mate John Cale, to record a tribute to the recently departed Warhol.  It’s remarkable for bringing together the feuding Reed and Cale, and some of the old Velvet’s chemistry is still there, perhaps best represented by the tracks “Smalltown”, “Work” and a very honest, direct and final “Hello it’s Me”.  The collaboration was not to last however, with Cale declaring his intention to “never work with Lou again” shortly after the album’s completion, though they did perform together for 1990’s short lived Velvet underground re-union.

Lou Reed and Mick Rock – Transformer – the book

The image of Lou Reed has been as imprinted on the history of rock as the music.  From the earliest black and white Factory era shots of the Velvet’s, largely clad in black, un-smiling, their personalities hidden behind impenetrable dark ray bans, they set the template for numerous alternative rock groups to follow.

It seems fitting then, that one of the last creative collaboration’s before Lou Reed’s death, was with the English photographer Mick Rock. Sometimes described as the man who shot the 70’s, Mick Rock has photographed some of the world’s most famous musicians, including another Lou Reed collaborator, David Bowie.

The Transformer book is magnificent, handsomely  bound, with all the photograph’s from the collaboration chosen by Reed, including many never seen before images.  It’s clear from these that the two had a very close relationship, with Reed not afraid to ditch the serious rock image of the Velvet’s for a more un-guarded 70’s persona, that more than hints at his bi-sexuality.  The famous shot from the Transformer album cover is here of course, but it’s the many studio sessions that really hold the attention, along with candids of Reed with other figures of New York in the 70’s including Bowie and Iggy.

Limited to an edition of 2000, it’s a worthy epitaph to one of rock’s most un-compromising characters.

See also – A video fly through of the earlier David Bowie Genesis collaboration with Heroes photographer  Masayoshi Sukita

Bowie / Sukita


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