Lou Reed quotes helped create an opaque image PIC: Reuters
Lou Reed quotes helped create an opaque image (Reuters)

Lou Reed, the recently deceased former frontman of the Velvet Underground, said he took drugs to feel "normal".

Check out the Wikipedia page of the singer and guitarist who played such a big role in glorifying junkie-chic and you will find next to no reference to the substance abuse which cast a long shadow over his life.

Yet for many years, Lou Reed and drugs went together like needle and spoon. In the circumstances, it could seen as an achievement for him to have reached 71 years of age.

Why a person takes drugs is a complex issue, but Reed suggested that for him it was fundamental. In a famous interview with music writer Lester Bangs, Reed suggested that being himself was so strange that drugs helped create a sense of normality.

He said: "I take drugs because in the 20th century in a technological age living in the city there are certain drugs you have to take just to keep yourself normal like a caveman.

"To attain equilibrium you need to take certain drugs. They don't getcha high even, they just getcha normal."

However, rock-n-roll myth and reality get mixed up easily. Few artists exploited this more than Reed, who regularly contradicted himself in interviews.

This was encapsulated in a quote from the same 1972 interview with Bangs in which Reed started off proclaiming he was taking speed, before ending up admitting it was something altogether more benign.

He said: "I still do shoot it [speed]. My doctor gives it to me. Well no, actually, they're just shots of meth mixed with vitamins, well, they're just vitamin C injections."

So was this Reed feeding his junkie image or undermining it? The answer's as clear as his 1975 album Metal Machine Music, in which a wall of noise was served up to fans.

Perhaps Reed was simply confident enough to mess around with public perceptions, as suggested by him saying: "My b******t is worth more than other people's diamonds."

Unsurpisingly, the lure of the rock star lifestyle exerted a strong pull over Reed. He admitted: "In the late 70s I started to search for the perfect sound - whatever that might be. Before that I was mainly interested in drugs, insanity and the rock'n'roll lifestyle."

But ejecting drugs initially meant replacing it with another ie, booze. Reed said: "I tried to give up drugs by drinking."

That evidently failed to completely fill the hole within Reed, who later turned to t'ai chi and even brought his instructor on stage to perform routines during concerts. This was a stunt that could have kickstarted rumours Reed was on back on hard drugs.

Despite a litany of contrary quotes, it will be the legacy and influence of Reed's music's that will live on.


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