Wednesday, March 17, 2021

A case of mistaken rock-star identity

The latest entry in the Things That I Did Not Know Until Now list:

Last night I watched a movie on Hulu titled Stardust that purports to tell the story of David Bowie’s attempt to find stardom in America in 1971 following the release of his album The Man Who Sold The World. The movie ends with Bowie finding success as he transforms into the Ziggy Stardust character.

The film begins with a disclaimer that “What follows is (mostly) fiction” so I settled back expecting to be entertained, not enlightened.

One scene places Bowie in a New York nightclub taking in a show by The Velvet Underground. Bowie then goes backstage, where he meets with Lou Reed and gushes about how much of a fan he is of Reed and his music. In the ensuing scene, Bowie is told that Reed had left VU the previous year and that he had instead met Doug Yule, who was fronting in place of Reed in an effort to keep the band together. 
Intrigued, I wondered if that mistaken-identity event actually occurred. Seems it actually did. 
From a 2014 interview, this is Yule’s remembrance: 
“We played at the Electric Circus in New York, and somebody came up to us afterwards and said: ‘Someone here wants to meet you guys.’ And I said: ‘Okay.’ So he came back and he was enthusiastic, and we talked a little bit. He had an English accent, and since the invasion of The Beatles. I have been enamored of things out of England. I was thrilled to talk to someone with an English accent. We had a conversation. and then he took off. About 15-20 years later, he told that story to NPR that he thought it was Lou and he had no idea who he was talking to, and neither did I. You look back and think, ‘Wow, did that really happen?’ It’s just conversation.”
Here is Bowie’s original quote regarding the meeting:

"I’d come back from New York, having caught one of the last performances of The Velvet Underground, a band I had admired tremendously since around '66/'67. One of that tiny bastion of Velvet Underground fans in London at the time, before they were generally known. And I’d gotten into the Electric Circus to see the gig. I watched the entire show, and there were not that many people in the audience because their star had begun to dim in New York. The whole band were there with Lou Reed singing the songs, and I thought it was just tremendous.

"I was singing along with the band, stuck right there at the apron of the stage. 'Waiting For The Man', 'White Light/ White Heat,' 'Heroin.' All that kind of stuff. And then after the show, I went backstage and I knocked on the door, and I said ‘Is Lou Reed in? I’d love to talk to him. I’m from England, cos I’m in music too, and he’s a bit of a hero to me.’ This guy said, ‘Wait here.’ And Lou comes out, and we sat talking on the bench for about quarter of an hour about writing songs, and what it’s like to be Lou Reed, and all that. ... And afterwards I was floating on a cloud and went back to my hotel room.

"I said to this guy that I knew in New York: ‘I’ve just seen The Velvet Underground, and I got to talk with Lou Reed for 15 minutes,’ and he said, ‘Yeah? Lou Reed left the band last year. I think you’ve been done.’ I said, ‘It looked like Lou Reed,’ and he said, ‘That’s Doug Yule. He’s the guy that took over from Lou Reed.’ I thought what an imposter, wow, that’s incredible. It doesn't matter really, cos I still talked to Lou Reed as far as I was concerned.”

Yule fronted the VU after Reed quit the band, but the movie implies that he took the lead role as a fraud, trying to make audiences believe they were seeing Reed on stage. In the nightclub and backstage scenes in Stardust, Yule’s character appears with curly hair and dark sunglasses to mimic Reed’s distinctive appearance.

As far as the movie itself, don’t expect something the level of Bohemian Rhapsody or Rocketman. Watch it only if you have time to kill and it’s free on a streaming service.
Learning that he had not actually met Lou Reed didn’t dampen Bowie’s admiration for the New York icon. “Queen Bitch,” on Bowie’s Hunky Dory album, is a tribute to Reed. “Coming back to England (after the 1971 tour), one of the memories I brought back with me was all that. So I wrote 'Queen Bitch' as a sort of homage to Lou Reed."  

Mick Rock's iconic 1972 photo of Bowie, Iggy Pop and Reed

Bowie did get to meet the real Lou Reed in 1972 in England at a press conference at the Dorchester Hotel in London staged to promote Bowie's upcoming US tour and the release of his Ziggy Stardust album. Iggy Pop and Reed were both working on their new albums, Raw Power and Transformer, and were hanging out at the conference. 
Photographer Mick Rock put the three performers together: "Even though Iggy and Lou were still basically 'underground' artists and David’s ascent was still in its early days, it was a photo that I really wanted to take. Only later did it become one of the classic rock images. So I hustled them together. The only thing I remember was Lou saying: 'This will be a pretty picture!'" 

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