Unlike previous biographers, DeCurtis prefers to emphasise the rising above over the more debased aspects of Reed’s life. The black eyes he gave his first wife, Bettye Kronstad, and the racist and anti-Semitic epithets he uttered during amphetamine and whisky binges in the 1970s are treated parenthetically. But the tension between Reed’s desire for acceptance — he was determined to be seen as a weighty literary figure — and bold defiance is well handled. The links between the provocateur who shaved a swastika in his hair in the 1970s and the cussed middle-aged rocker who grew increasingly interested in his Jewishness are plausibly elucidated. The result is an even-handed, well-researched portrait rendered in the spirit of 'the empathy and distance' that DeCurtis identifies as crucial to Reed’s songwriting.
Reading Anthony DeCurtis’s Lou Reed: A Life can sometimes give you the feeling that the author can’t wait for the absurd to quit courting the vulgar, but DeCurtis — a longtime MVP of the Rolling Stone writers’ stable — knows he can’t completely gloss over the seamy, abrasive, riveting spectacle Reed made of himself in those early post-VU years ... DeCurtis has put in commendable spadework, exhuming everything he can about Reed’s early years, from his simultaneously impudent, sitcom-esque, and damaged midcentury Long Island adolescence to the embryonic but recognizable Lou Reed ... While he’s skillful at assembling the biographical building blocks that reward interest at a casual level, his book isn’t just short on dirt. It’s short on resonance, advocacy, identification, deep-dive cultural spelunking, provocative arguments, nuance, fervor, and everything else that sums up the difference between perspective and an actual point of view, particularly when the subject is an artist as gnarly and passion-provoking as Lou Reed ... f there’s an interestingly phrased sentence anywhere in DeCurtis’s book, good luck finding it. As usual, he’s capable, intelligent, suave, informed, readable — and bloodless.
What were the sources of Reed’s rage, and the obnoxiousness that led the Swedish actor Erland Josephson to believe that he had just met someone called Lee Rude? Like most rock biographies, Anthony DeCurtis’s Lou Reed: A Life spins Freud’s early hits. But, then, rock was the sound of revolt in the days when the family was still nuclear, and Reed did write Oedipal numbers like ‘Kill Your Sons’ … A Life is comprehensive and sympathetic, if too generous in its patience with Reed’s sadism, rudeness, vanity and patchy solo albums. For Mr. DeCurtis, Reed’s biographical Rosebud was homosexual shame deriving from his upbringing. In the end, he didn’t want to be the first gay rock star.