In the fall of 1970, Lou Reed walked away from rock and roll. He left the Velvet Underground, and New York City, returning to Long Island. He moved in with his parents and got a job as a typist at his father's accounting firm. He told friends his career in music was over. Vicious takes an imagined look at what happened to Reed after he quit his band, and before the successful solo career that began in 1971.
The story follows Reed as he finds himself drawn into a strange case at his dad's office. Someone's trying to claim the possessions of a dead man. One item draws Reed's attention: a painting by Andy Warhol, given to the murder victim by the artist himself. Reed resolves to get to the bottom of the mystery, only to discover that he—and his songs—are somehow at the center.
From the country clubs of Long Island and the Factory scene of Manhattan, to the haunted corridors of Creedmoor State Psychiatric Hospital and the gritty Lower East Side, Vicious is a wholly original and loving look at a little known period in the life of a legend.
"Vicious is a super fun read. I’ll never listen to 'Sister Ray' the same way again."
THE VELVET UNDERGROUND
The Velvet Underground is one of the most influential rock groups in history. Formed in 1964 by Reed and John Cale, the band broke boundaries in lyrical content and musical format. In '67, when other groups were praising peace and love, Reed was singing about hard drugs and prostitutes. Always eschewing the pop charts, the Velvet Underground devoted itself to blasts of distortion and concept pieces that owed more to literature than to pop music.
The band continues to fascinate the public. In 2018 there was a museum exhibit in New York, the Velvet Underground Experience, which looked at "how this iconic American rock band influenced modern music, fashion, art, and popular culture." In 2019, fashion brand Supreme introduced a line of Velvet Underground merchandise. And, in 2021, a feature-length documentary about the band by acclaimed director Todd Haynes premiered in theaters and on Apple TV+. For a group who only sold a few thousand records in their short existence, they're more popular now than ever.
"Andy Warhol’s Factory was rife with charismatic nobodies who took a brief turn in the spotlight before flickering out. In Jeff Gomez’s sly tale, fate turns post-VU office worker Lou into an amateur, amnesiac detective made to reckon with father figures biological and otherwise. He’ll either get a song out of it or wind up dead, and fans will enjoy the intimate, anxious adventure with its hints of the work to come."
LOU REED IN 1970
Vicious takes place during a momentous but almost wholly undocumented time in Lou's life. Every biography about Reed devotes only a few paragraphs, if not just a sentence, to the period between the end of the Velvet Underground and the launch of Lou's solo career. The reason for this is not much is known about Reed's time on Long Island, beyond the bare facts.
Vicious steps in and vividly imagines this period as a thriller, putting Lou and other figures from the era, such as Andy Warhol, Danny Fields, and Moe Tucker, at the heart of a murder mystery. And even though the novel is fiction, the world in which the story takes place is real. Vicious is an accurate account of Reed's life and career, not to mention it paints a realistic portrait of New York in the gritty '70s.
"An entertaining suspense tale that plays celebrity mythology against reality in intriguing ways."
—Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
Reed's artistic limbo was broken in 1971 when he signed a record deal with RCA. His first solo album, entitled Lou Reed and released in April of 1972, was an immediate flop. Undaunted, rising star David Bowie—riding high on the success of his Ziggy Stardust LP—offered to produce Reed's next album. The result, Transformer, came out in the fall of 1972. It has proven to be Reed's best-known record, spawning his only hit with "Walk on the Wild Side," a breezy travelogue through Andy Warhol's Factory.
The opening song on Transformer is "Vicious." Reed wrote it in response to a request from Warhol, who had given him the title and told him to write about someone who was vicious. The novel Vicious imagines a mythic backstory behind how Reed might have come to write the song.
Transformer continually appears on lists of the best albums of all time, and is considered to be Reed's masterwork.