I've changed the way anybody who goes from Twenty to Forty has changed. I don't do a lot of things I used to do because I either didn't care or wasn't thinking correctly. and I think I am better and stronger for it.
- Lou Reed, on ABC's New York People, 1982-1983
The decade began with a coup. The 1980's, as biographer Aiden Levy described it in "Dirty Blvd.: The Life and Music of Lou Reed", was Reed's era of control. Following the April release of Growing Up in Public (1980), his last with Arista Records, and the subsequent packed-to-the-brim two-month-long tour, he took a year and a half hiatus. His recent marriage to his second wife Sylvia Morales served as a catalyst of change for Lou Reed. He quit drugs, alcohol, and for a brief time, his Rock and Roll lifestyle. He bought a house in Blairstown, a rural town buried in the north west corner of New Jersey, and joined both Alcoholics and Narcotics Anonymous.
1981 was something of a millenarian moment for Reed. He stepped back into the world of music by seizing full control of it. For his next album The Blue Mask (1982), recorded in October of 1981 and released four months later on RCA, he fired his '70s band and began collaborations with two era defining musicians - his tumultuous yet inspired collaboration with guitarist and punk rocker Robert Quine which would last for three albums, and with bassist Fernando Saunders, who provided him a baritone foundation he would return to for the rest of his career.
Lou Reed with Fernando Saunders and Robert Quine, soundcheck in Verona, Italy, 1983
(Lou Reed Papers)
One of the great departures from the old Lou Reed was his discovery of Motorcycles. If you define his career by way of his perennial interest in technology, the decade of the 1960s for him can be described as his pushing guitars and amps to their limits and his 1970s with his experimentation with newly invented consumer video cameras and the soundscape-crafting of binaural technology, then motorcycles might serve for his 1980s. The helmet you see on the cover of Legendary Hearts (1983) was Lou Reed's - the same one seen above on display at NYPL Library for the Performing Arts, on loan from Laurie Anderson - worn on his rides around the tri-state area and down into Delaware. Motorcycling became his new drug of choice, becoming a muse, and one which he would factor into his live sets, studio recordings, and off stage persona. It didn't hurt that chrome and leather jackets are sometimes just cool.
If casual Lou Reed fans have seen any footage of '80s Lou Reed, it's what can been seen in one of the highlights of the Lou Reed Papers video collection - Lou Reed sitting on, of all things, a Honda scooter. Not on one of his beloved Harvey Davidsons or Kawasakis, though we have footage of those too. Underscored by "Walk on the Wild Side" and prefaced with frenetic shots of Lower East Side street life, Lou Reed in all his stately "cool" delivers the line:
Hey, don't settle for walkin'
Aired in 1985, the footage in question is a Honda Scooter commercial and it illustrates something important about this new era of Lou Reed - the intense, self-assured, standing of a career musician; a businessman with a voice and identity who understands what his art can buy. It also represents one of the surprising though ultimately obvious corners of the Lou Reed Papers' video collection - the polished Reed of big and small screen.
He brought it all together in the title song on his 1984 album New Sensations:
I don't like guilt be it stoned or stupidDrunk and disorderly I ain't no cupid Two years ago today I was arrested on Christmas Eve
I don't want pain, I want to walk not be carriedI don't want to give it up, I want to stay married I ain't no dog tied to a parked car
I took my GPZ out for a rideThe engine felt good between my thighs The air felt cool, it's was forty degrees outside
I rode to Pennsylvania near the Delaware GapSometimes I got lost and had to check the map I stopped at a roadside diner for a burger and a coke
There were some country folk and some hunters insideSomebody got themselves married and somebody died I went to the juke box and played a hillbilly song
They was arguing about football as I waved and went outsideAnd I headed for the mountains feeling warm inside I love that GPZ so much, you know that I could kiss her
Talkin' 'bout your new sensationsTalkin' new sensations
Along with the rest of the music world, the MTV wave crashed into Lou Reed. Ever interested in trying new things, he was happy to explore the world of Music Videos and created some that aged better than many of their contemporaries. In the Lou Reed Papers we have music videos for the songs listed below:
Two Lou Reed collaborations this decade were accompanied by music videos. The first was for a collaboration with Sam Moore on the titular track for the 1986 movie Soul Man, and the second is a duet Reed did with his then bassist Rob Wasserman:
Lou Reed was also featured in music videos by friends throughout the '80s:
Lastly, for the anti-apartheid benefit album Sun City, Lou Reed collaborated with over 50 musicians as part of Artists United Against Apartheid:
Lou Reed as a personality was also featured multiple times on MTV, hosting as guest VJ programs PostModern MTV on June 1 & 2, 1989 and 120 Minutes on July 11, 1986. His most prominent feature on MTV during the '80s was his co-hosting the 1987 MTV Music Awards pre-show with magician duo, and Reed's personal friends, Penn & Teller.