Thursday, July 5, 2012

Living With His Parents...




"Lou Reed is alive and well and living with his parents on Long Island." (Graffiti written in the men's room of a skid row bar in Providence, RI.) 

It was July, 1971. As a transfer student to RISD, I was enrolled in Summer Session, a crash course in getting us up to RISD-speed. For better or worse, though, I spent more time at a bums' bar than I did in any classes.

The watering hole is long gone, the entire block razed a year or so later to make way for some cheesy condos. I can't recall the bar's name. It was a dusty old dump where you could get a glass of beer for 15¢. Not a big glass, but a glass. (Of beer!) I didn't have much money, but I always had, at least, a nickel and a dime. 

A bare bones place, there was no TV flickering in a corner. We were there to drink and talk. You know, what a bar is for.

Besides the bums, the clientele were slumming artists. Which meant that I probably shouldn't have been so surprised to read that restroom testimonial - The VU had played at RISD a few years prior. And Boston, a mere hour away, boasted a strong Velvets fan base. But I was surprised. "Wow! Someone knows who Lou Reed is! And knows what he's doing!"

1971 was a career ebb for Lou. He'd spent a chunk of the 1960s fronting The Velvet Underground, who were, I believe, the third best rock band in an era replete with tremendous rock bands, topped only by The Beatles and The Rolling Stones.

In their time, The VU never got much beyond cult status. (After Reed exited in 1970, they straggled on for a bit.) 

And there was old Lou, back home, working in the family business, even getting married to a local gal, a former cocktail waitress, Bettye Kronstadt, I've read.

Things change. The following year he went to England and recorded his first, eponymously titled, solo LP for RCA. Not a bad album by any stretch, but it didn't make much of a dent on the charts. However, later that year David Bowie and Mick Ronson grabbed their anti-hero by the lapels, dragged him into the studio, and produced "Transformer," complete with its hit, "Walk on the Wild Side," an opus - almost a documentary film - immortalizing the lives and times of drag queens, drug addicts and male hustlers who were part of the Warhol Factory scene.

But that July, "Transformer" was more than a year away, an eon in a young man's life, whether he's drinking a 15¢ beer or living with his parents.