Role models of greatness.

Here you will discover the back stories of kings, titans of industry, stellar athletes, giants of the entertainment field, scientists, politicians, artists and heroes – all of them gay or bisexual men. If their lives can serve as role models to young men who have been bullied or taught to think less of themselves for their sexual orientation, all the better. The sexual orientation of those featured here did not stand in the way of their achievements.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Lou Reed

UPDATE: Lou Reed died of liver disease on October 27, 2013. He had undergone a liver transplant the previous May.

Lou Reed (b. 1942) is a bisexual American rock musician, songwriter, and photographer. He is best known as guitarist, vocalist and songwriter for The Velvet Underground (1965-1973), but has enjoyed a decades-long successful solo career.

Reed grew up in a middle-class Long Island, NY, Jewish household, but he was greatly at odds with his parents. While a teenager, his parents had him confined to a mental hospital, where he was forcibly administered electro-shock treatments and various drug therapies to counter his nascent homosexual tendencies. I’m not making this up. Nevertheless, he survived undeterred and played in amateur bands until he left for Syracuse University, where he experimented in free jazz and avant garde musical forms. At some point during these college years Reed decided to become a writer, declaring a major in English Literature (he graduated with honors). While at Syracuse he had his first gay love affair, but for the next decade Lou dated both men and women in a sexually ambiguous, drug-fueled haze.

Post college, Lou found himself in New York City, where he joined with several other musicians to form The Velvet Underground in 1965. Pop artist Andy Warhol became their manager and sent them out on tour. Warhol designed the now-famous album cover of a peelable banana. Several albums received luke-warm reception, and by 1970 Reed had resigned from the group and moved back into his parent’s home on Long Island, working at his father’s accounting firm. He worked on a solo album that was released in 1971, again garnering little notice. Assisted by his fans David Bowie and Mick Ronson, he was given a glam makeover to accompany the issue of his second solo album, Transformer (1972), which contained a bona-fide hit, Walk on the Wild Side, a top-20 song that celebrated drag queens, male prostitutes, and a gay lifestyle. The subjects of many of his lyrics were drag queens and heroin.

Throughout the 1970s, Lou Reed alternated between commercial and artistic success and failure. Significantly, he married Betty Kronstadt in late 1972, but they divorced within a year. Lou Reed married Sylvia Morales in 1980 after meeting her in a gay SM club. Amazingly, their marriage lasted for more than a decade. After quelling his personal demons and self-destructive habits, Reed hit his stride in the 1980s, although he was quoted at the time, “I have such a heavy resentment thing because of all the prejudices against my being gay. How can anybody gay keep their sanity?” He also made this statement, “I just wouldn’t want listeners to be under a false impression. I want them to know that if they’re liking a man, he’s a gay one – from top to bottom. You want to know the real Lou Reed? Turn around. Now bend over.”

Well, there you have it.

In the 1990s he began a successful collaboration with performance artist Laurie Anderson and theatre director Robert Wilson. In 2007 Reed revived his 1973 Berlin album, touring in a mixed media performance. Reed married Anderson in 2008, and so far as I can determine, their relationship endures in a home they share in Greenwich Village. Reed, who also has a home in Southampton, Long Island, continues to record and tour, and is now regarded as a respected and influential rock music veteran, although he continues to send out mixed signals about his sexual orientation. As he makes outrageous contradictory statements about his life and philosophy, we realize nothing’s changed in all those years.


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