Waiting for the Man takes you on the roller coaster ride that was Lou Reed’s life, and makes it YOUR roller coaster. You’ll never view Reed’s catalogue and music the same again after reading this, Jeremy Reed runs your ideals and platitudes through a richly rendered sympathetic perspective of a societal outlier, a sexual deviant given singular, mad scientific capabilities.
Ironically, though, much of the efficacy in Jeremy Reed’s modus operandi, for all his gay amnesty, lies in his critical ruthlessness. For instance, immediately following a passage detailing Reed’s struggles with alcohol concurrent with galvanizing musical output, Jeremy Reed obliterates all morality in favor of critical honesty regarding the ensuing sobriety on the part of the musician: “(Reed’s) professionally clean live sound, mechanical, and without any of his antagonistic verbal interaction with audiences sounded frigid, like a detoxed Reed doing little more than going through the motions to reaffirm his live presence after three years away from touring… Without drinks as the mediator between himself and the audience, Reed sounded locked into formulaic cold and determined to return to basics” (21). As if fearing insult to his readership, Jeremy Reed wields a disturbingly uncompromising disposition in disparaging the “art” Reed created in sobriety. Whereas culturally, an American here, or perhaps a weaker-minded critic, would have incorporated some humor or sympathy by way of conscience, though the audacious critic that he is British Jeremy Reed drives forth with nothing but the cold, hard truth: art without alcohol apparently sucks.
In discarding entirely the philosophical realm, it’s entirely misanthropic the way Jeremy Reed puts art ahead of the human. I liken it to the strategy of a miserly record label wanting to squeeze all the commercial juice out of its hierarchically subservient agent. But in imbuing this exact demanding attitude, Jeremy Reed successfully takes the reader inside the mind of the record companies, the artist forced to deal with them, and the commercial world that demanded output so bluntly from Reed, as is documented via accounts of Reed’s professional life in the mid-’70’s.
And indeed, there’s an intriguing point of contention laying claim to the majority of the whole book’s discourse, which is Jeremy Reed being first and foremost a detached critic. When this is a snag, it manifests as undue griping against Lou Reed’s disdain of the critics, see “Lou’s conviction that he was always light years apart from his rock contemporaries, combined with invincible intellectual attitude when discussing his work, allowed him always to maintain a position of arrogating over potential critics of his work” (28), but it’s mostly made up for throughout by crisp, taut, unsentimental professionalism with which Jeremy Reed approaches the godfather of glam’s life.
The concern with how critics are treated, unquestionably, seems to be a plight only of the critics themselves; the rest of the listening public couldn’t care less, as music isn’t made for critics, per general wisdom, but for other artists, other emotionally auspicious individuals.
Of course, another way Jeremy Reed parts from the median perspective of Lou Reed’s life is that he himself seems to be gay, associated with gay, or at least very interested in their festivities and lyings, and so centerpieces them prominently throughout the book’s dictation. Graphic accounts are given of the struggle and persecution that homosexuals faced in 1960’s New York, both leading up to and after the ’64 World’s Fair. It may be the case that his homosexuality indeed informed much of the sociological strife he experienced in New York in the ’60’s, but Reed’s music isn’t androgynous or effeminate as we came to know the terms, at least by the ’80’s with George Michael and Boy George, or even as compared with David Bowie. That is, the true fan of Lou Reed views him not as gay, but primarily as a rock and roll musician, and a lover of expression for its own sake, an enthusiast of precious, fleeting wisdom as from the tortured Delmore Schwartz of early doo-wop and R&B. These are universal languages Reed devoured in his burgeoning days, irrespective of sexual orientation. For this reason, I view the emphasis on gay that, if not excessive, is at very least inordinately wealthy, as an “angle” Jeremy Reed employs, and not a bulwark of Lou Reed discourse. Also, he was indeed not without a concept of the heterosexual romantic, marrying of two women during the course of his life.
Again, I can’t emphasize enough that Waiting for the Man is undoubtedly an enjoyable read for any die-hard fan of the musician, but neither can I downplay that it’s entirely the work of a talented snob, one who holds an inordinate amount of regard for tastemakers and fringe sociological expressers. In embodying rock genteel as a critic, as it were, and exhibiting de facto sympathy for the industry, Jeremy Reed ignores a key humanistic angle on the life and times of Reed: the artist’s positive sentiments with the press and guru tended to be concurrent with drastic artistic ebbs. Right along the lines of when Reed rejoices at having been accepted by Arista records [Lou saying “‘If Clive (Davis of Arista Records) wanted to be seen with me, I knew I had turned the corner… I knew I had won.’” (104)], we get Wild Angel, an “unnoteable, slightly funky album” (111). So as a critic, Jeremy Reed seems incapable of true, direct, concentrated fandom, and this displacement definitely has its pluses and minuses throughout the book.