It’s hard to know how to feel about this book, actually. You see, while I was reading it – I enjoyed it. As soon as I finished the whole book (I say whole, it’s just over 200 pages, it’s a quick – and, sure, engaging – read) I felt nothing. It seemed the ultimate empty-gesture, a speed-written cash-grab attempt.
Mick Wall’s a good writer, he has a way with a phrase and as pleased with himself and his purple prose as he often is the words do – sometimes – sing from the page. So much so (sometimes) that you can ignore (even miss) the apparent lack of meaning.
Reed died in late October and before the end of the year Wall had finished this hastily assembled Hachette-job.
I read this as a fan of Wall’s writing, at least a lot of the time – he’s sorta desperately flooding the market of late with re-written books on subjects that don’t really need to be looked at again. I read this as a fan of Lou Reed’s work. I’ve read several other books about Reed and the VU and I considered this a refresher, a book-length eulogy.
And if you look at it that way – damning it here with faint praise, I know, but if you look at it as the book-length version of a well-written Wiki page, then it hums along nicely and for the most part it gets the placement of Reed as an artist (mostly) correct.
Wall glosses over the childhood and early songwriting career – and any Reed fan knows there are so many formative stories here. He gives The Velvet Underground a lot of room, album by album assessments and then he surges into Reed’s solo career. Quick-quick, only half the book left!
There are some astute points and some obvious ones and there’s a lot of bungling together of public record features and quotes from previous works. Wall has been around long enough and doing this long enough that he can draw on his own experiences too – so there’s plenty of him in the story. And that’s okay too.
What we don’t get is any of the motivations. This is called Lou Reed: The Life but it perhaps should have been called Lou Reed: The Music – as it falls into the trap of dealing with each album as the significant milestone and then, presumably as the rush to meet the Christmas market was coming, Wall panics and lumps together some of the 1980s albums, says very little about the career comebacks that were New York, Songs For Drella and Magic And Loss and glosses over the VU reunion.
There’s just enough time to get in a ridiculous assertion that Lulu was misunderstood and the finest work Reed or Metallica (previous subjects of Wall’s) had offered. This is of course absurd, if Reed had made Lulu with Sonic Youth it could have stood a chance, if he’d employed The Black Angels or almost any other band it could have worked – but Metallica cannot improvise. And to suggest that their work on Lulu was the best they’d offered in any context is borderline-retarded.
But just as I’m cursing the fact that this book has so obviously been assembled with no heart, no attempts to probe beyond a quick surface skim, I find myself agreeing with how Mick Wall has painted Lou Reed’s career. He’s got him sussed, pretty much.
So it’s a baffling wee book – so obviously a hideous attempt to cash in on the death and make some Christmas money. So obviously playing to the fact that people will settle for the speed-read in these get-your-information-when-you-can/as-quickly-as-you-can days of Wiki reading and link-posting. So desperate to be first – we remember the thing that comes first. First equal best, sadly.
I like Mick Wall’s writing – and his career summaries of AC/DC and Metallica were very good. His earlier unauthorised bio of Axl Rose was a fantastic read. But he has a Black Sabbath book out at the moment too – and he didn’t need to weaken his oeuvre with what will ultimately go down as the “Lulu” of Lou Reed bios. Hey, if I call it that I’m sure, given his alleged fondness for the album, Wall can count the blood-money he’s made off this book and laugh, er, heartily. Happily. Job done.