Lou Reed was born Lewis Allan Reed on March 2, 1942 in Brooklyn, NY.
Both his mother Toby (née Futterman) Reed and his father Sidney Joseph Reed (born Sidney Joseph Rabinowitz) were children of Jewish immigrants who arrived to New York in or around the first decade of the 20th century. Toby was one of 4 children to Polish Jewish parents who settled in Brownsville, Brooklyn. Sidney was one of 3 to Russian Jewish parents and business owners in Borough Park, Brooklyn. Lou Reed and his younger sister Merrill Reed Weiner were raised Jewish.
During his time in Brooklyn Lou Reed attended P.S. 192 in Brooklyn, made famous by his dedication to "the kids of P.S. 192" at the end of his song Coney Island Baby.
In the 1995 Wayne Wang/Paul Auster film Blue in the Face, Lou Reed shares his thoughts on his time in Brooklyn.
I couldn't have been unhappier in the 8 years I spent growing up in Brooklyn. I say that not having realized what it would be like living on Long Island which is infinitely worse.
[Leaving Brooklyn for Long Island] was probably a childhood trauma that I had other than the Dodgers leaving Brooklyn which, if you think about, is a reason why some of us are imbued with a cynicism that we never recovered from. Obviously you're not a Mets fan and you can't possibly be a Yankee fan so baseball's eliminated from your life.
Because of being born in Brooklyn.
In 1953 Sidney and Toby Reed moved the family out to the suburban Long Island town Freeport, NY.
Lou Reed's teenage life in Freeport has been very well researched but inconsistently documented. In our collection we have many vital snapshots of his life and the start of his musical career.
It is in this time that we start to see the advent of the Lou Reed myth - the "Rock n Roll Animal" caricature that he became known for.
In the collection we have two of Lou Reed's Freeport High School yearbooks, his Junior year 1958 and Senior year 1959.
Inside each they are innumerable inscriptions from friends. Also contained is a goldmine of images of teenage Lou Reed.
Through his last two years of high school Lou Reed played guitar and sang in a couple of different groups. The most notable was his stint with classmates Alan Walters and Phil Harris as The Shades. Harris would go on to record under the name Bobby Randle.
The Shades were lucky enough to be scouted by Bob Shad at a high school talent show and soon after were signed to Shad's brand new label Time Records. In the process they changed their name to The Jades due to a naming conflict with a previously established group.
As The Jades, the three of them released the single Leave Her For Me/So Blue, Time Records 1002. Accompanying them were famed studio musicians King Curtis on saxophone and Mickey Baker on guitar. Lou Reed was 16.
Lou Reed had had plans to attend Syracuse University in Fall 1959. His father had driven him and his friends upstate to tour the campus and the decision had been set between he and his friends. Unbeknownst to his friends, however, during his final year of High School Lou Reed was suffering from what is now generally recognized as Depression. The diagnosis has never been made public, and Lou Reed himself was never consistent with his descriptions of the medical, mental, and moral concerns his doctors and parents had at the time.
It's not clear when it started but by mid 1959 Lou Reed's psychiatrist concluded that the solution was Electroshock Therapy, aka Electroconvulsive Therapy or ECT. Soon after graduating from Freeport High School, Reed was treated at Creedmoor Psychiatric Center using multiple applications of ECT. The treatment was debilitating and the recovery was long, together taking a little over a year.
Lou Reed's sister Merrill, his junior by 5 years, wrote about this period of Lou's life in the article "A Family in Peril: Lou Reed’s Sister Sets the Record Straight About His Childhood".
Lou Reed wouldn't talk about his ECT treatment until much later in life.
The one notable exception is his song "Kill Your Sons" on his 1974 album Sally Can't Dance.
This song reflects Lou Reed's loss of faith in his parents and what many biographers characterize as a cementing of his rebellious & underground leanings.
Interestingly enough, even at the time of writing "Kill Your Sons" Reed didn't come directly to the topic. As you can hear in this 1971 Acoustic Demo recording "Kill Your Sons" started out as clear anti-war song.
In Fall of 1959 Lou Reed finished his ECT treatment. Then began his post-shock treatment at Payne Whitney Psychiatric Clinic on Manhattan's Upper East Side. Too late to attend Syracuse University, he instead enrolled in classes at New York University.
This was the first time he had spent much time in New York City since he was 8.
Lou Reed took advantage of his new local by exploring New York's Jazz scene. Notably he would followed Saxophonist Ornette Coleman and his quartet, Billy Higgins, Charlie Haden, and Don Cherry, from show to show around the city. Since Reed didn't have the money to actually see them play he would resort to listening from outside club windows.
Lou Reed loved 50's Doo-Wop music. Anytime he had an opportunity to talk about it he would. In the Lou Reed Papers we a recording of a lovely moment in 1984 where he and Sue Simmons talk on New York's News 4 Live at Five and share their old favorites.
There was one great line that I wish I had written. It goes:
She made me do something that I never did before / I ran right down to the flower store / I bought her a bundle / a beautiful batch / and don't you know she sent them right back / and she said "later for you baby"
If I only had written that... that's "Later For You Baby" by the Solitaires on Ace Records, the yellow label.
(Lou Reed Papers)
Contains the records listed below
|Leave Her For Me/So Blue - The Jades (Time Records)||I Sold My Heart to the Junkman/Itty Bitty Twist - Pattie LaBelle and the Blue Bells (Newtown Records)|
|On Your Radio/Dance of Love - Richard Lanham (ACME Records)||Smoke From Your Cigarette/Pretty Baby What's Your Name by The Mellows ft. Lillian Leach/The Mellows (Jay-Dee Records)|
|I Know What Boys Like/No Guilt - The Waitresses (Antilles Records)||Smoke From Your Cigarette/Pretty Baby What's Your Name by The Mellows ft. Lillian Leach/The Mellows (Jay-Dee Records)|
|Keep Looking/I Don't Want You No More - Solomon Burke (Atlantic Records)||The Wind/Baby Be Mine by The Diablos ft. Nolan Strong (Fortune Records)|
|White Christmas /The Bells of St. Mary's - The Drifters ft. Clyde McPhatter & Bill Pinckney/The Drifters ft. Clyde McPhatter (Atlantic Records)||Crazy Like a Fox/Shock Me - Link Cromwell (Ork Records)|
|Sh-Boom/Smokey Joe's Cafe - The Sh-Booms/The Robins (Atlantic Records)||I Can Hear Music/When I Saw You - The Ronettes (Philles Records)|
|Coney Island Baby/You Baby You - The Excellents (Blast Records)||White Christmas/Danny Boy - Nolan Strong & The Diablos (Pyramid Records)|
|You Don't Love Me Anymore/Let's Go to the Rock & Roll Ball - The Pastels (Cadet Records)||Get It On Home/No More Tomorrow - The Geminis (RCA Victor Records)|
|You Said You Loved Me/Gloria - The Channels (Channel Records)||Out In The Streets/The Boy - The Shangri-Las (Red Bird Records)|
|Just Like Me/Kicks - Paul Revere & The Raiders ft. Mark Lindsay (Columbia Records)||Ain't Too Proud To Beg/Dance Little Sister - Rolling Stones (Rolling Stones Records)|
|Hey Senorita/Earth Angel - The Penguins (Dootone Records)||Before They Make Me Run (stereo)/Before They Make Me Run (mono) - Rolling Stones (Rolling Stones Records)|
|Wuthering Heights/Kite - Kate Bush (EMI Records)||Shattered/Everything is Turning to Gold - Rolling Stones (Rolling Stones Records)|
|I've Had It/Lorraine - The Bell Notes/The Knockouts (Eric Records)||How Could You Call It Off/The Plea - The Chantels (Roulette Records)|
|Sister Sooky/I'll Watch Over You - The Turbans (Flashback Records)||He's Gone/If You Try - The Chantels (Roulette Records)|
|You're So Fine/Goddess of Angels - The Falcons (Flick Records)||Maybe/I Can't Take It - The Chantels (Roulette Records)|
|The Wind/Baby Be Mine - The Diablos (Fortune Records)||Every Night (I Pray)/Sure of Love - The Chantels (Roulette Records)|
|Baby, Come Back/Ice Cream Song - The Equals (Good Old Gold Records)||Could This Be Magic/Chapel Of Dreams - The Dubs (Roulette Records)|
|Lay Your Head On My Shoulder/Baby Come a Little Closer - The 5 Willows (Herald Records)||I Found Out Why/Too Young - Lewis Lymon and the Teenchords (Roulette Records)|
|Walk Right In/Don't You Just Know It - The Moments/Huey Piano Smith (Janus Gold Records)||White Christmas/Silent Night - The Ravens (Savoy Records)|
|Ship Of Love/My Story - The Nutmegs (Janus Gold Records)||Ca Plane Pour Moi/Pogo Pogo - Plastic Bertrand (Sire Records)|
|Smoke From Your Cigarette/Pretty Baby What's Your Name - The Mellows, ft. Lillian Leach/The Mellows (Jay-Dee Records)||Florence/Let's Start All Over Again - The Paragons (Trip Records)|
|Honky Tonk Pt 1/Honky Tonk Pt 2 - Bill Doggett (King Records)||Deserie/Valerie - The Charts/The Starlights (Trip Oldies Records)|
|Runaround Sue/I Wonder Why - Dion/Dion & The Belmonts (Laurie Records)||Crazy Little Mama at My Front Door/Up On the Mountain - The Eldorados/The Magnificents (Trip Records)|
|White Cliffs of Dover/With These Hands - The 5 Willows (Lost-Nite Records)||You're So Fine/Goddess of Angels - The Falcons (Unart Records)|
|Hand Clappin'/Jumbo - Red Prysock (Mercury Records)||Stay With Me/Try (Just a Little Bit Harder) - Lorraine Ellison (Warner Bros. Seven Arts Records)|
|Nowhere to Run/My Baby Loves Me - Martha Reeves & the Vandellas (Motown Yesteryear Records)||She's Got The Time (She's Got The Changes)/Love Is Real - The Poor (York Records)|
Ornette Coleman's 1959 The Shape of Jazz to Come is considered a seminal Jazz album. Track 1, Lonely Woman, would become a Jazz standard and Lou Reed would say in a 2005 interview with Sylvia Simmons for Mojo Magazine that he wouldn't go a single day without humming it.
I would follow where they went, I couldn't afford to go in so I would listen through the window and I heard Lonely Woman, and that changed my life.
- Lou Reed
Once his post-ECT recovery was complete at Payne Whitney Psychiatric Clinic, Lou Reed would continue attending NYU for the rest of the year by commuting from his family home in Freeport. That summer he would transfer to Syracuse University and begin the '60s on a new foot.