“So Blue,” the B-side of “Leave Her for Me,” was written by Lou Reed and Jades lead singer Phil Harris. It’s another classic teenage romance number, this time working the heartbreak side of the street. The lyrics are simple, almost monosyllabic, and so wholesome there’s even a candy store reference.
Lou’s actual love life was not so wholesome. According to high school classmate Richard Sigal,
We all had long-term girlfriends. Like, for months on end, or a year, we would be going steady. Lou never did. All of a sudden he would show up with these girls. They were all sluts. I had no idea where he found them. He didn’t do traditional things, like take them to the movies and then to the ice-cream parlor. Lou once told me, “I like girls with black hearts.”
He didn’t just like girls, of course. Sometime early in high school he had started frequenting a nearby gay bar called the Hay Loft; later he played music there and even got a part-time job as a waiter. It was during this period that Lou began vocally exercising another one of his “teen-age rights”:
VI. The Right to Question Ideas
“He was kind of a depressed personality,” says Elliot Garfinkel, who knew Lou as a teen and would become his first manager. “[Freeport] was affluent, and he was somewhat critical of that kind of environment. I don’t think he was happy with that. He looked more to the seedier side of life.”
It’s classic suburban teen stuff: Rebelling against your parents and all they stand for, looking for escape in literature and substances. But Lou took it a little further than most. Richard Sigal:
He was always ahead of us. He would read the Beat poets, Ginsberg and Saul Bellow and and people who at the time I wasn’t particularly interested in. If we were looking at Playboy, Lou was reading The Story of O; if we were drinking beer, Lou was smoking joints.
By the time he finished high school Lou had strayed so far from what was considered normal or acceptable that his parents sought psychiatric help. This was how he ended up in Building 60 of the Creedmore State Psychiatric Hospital, as recounted in Victor Bockris’s biography Transformer:
He was wheeled into the small, bare operating room, furnished with a table next to a hunk of metal from which two thick wires dangled. Lou stared at the overhead fluorescent light bars as the sedative started to take effect. The nurse applied a salve to his temples and stuck a clamp into his mouth so that he would not swallow his tongue. Seconds later, conductors at the end of the thick wires were attached to his head. The last thing that filled his vision before he lapsed into unconsciousness was a blinding white light.
This was a pretty gross violation of another right:
II. The Right to Have a “Say” About His Own Life
Today it is known as electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) and used only in certain specialized cases; in the late 1950s it was called electroshock, and was a fairly new and trendy treatment for all manner of mental disorders. No doubt Lou’s doctors and his parents thought they were helping him, but after eight sessions he had a whole new set of problems and fuel for a lifetime of resentments.
You can’t read a book because you get to page seventeen and you have to go right back to page one again. Or if you put the book down for an hour and went back to pick it up where you started, you didn’t remember the pages you read. You had to start all over. If you walked around the block you forgot where you were.
He also suffered from insomnia and felt that his personality had fragmented.
“From Lou #3 to Lou #8 — Hi!” You wake up in the morning and say, “Wonder which one of them is around today?” You find out which one and send him out. Fifteen minutes later, someone else shows up.
So would Lou have become what he was if not for this trauma? I mean, who can say? It would be easy to draw a straight line from ECT to “Sister Ray” to Metal Machine Music and pigeonhole Lou Reed as the Tortured Artist Taking His Revenge on Society. But that would be to ignore all the other Lous. There were a lot of them, and we’ve only scratched the surface.