Bettye Kronstad speaks for the first time about her marriage to Lou Reed: ‘Fame is a fiend. It turns people into monsters’

Lou Reed

I was a 19-year-old student at Columbia University in New York when I first met Lou Reed in 1968. I was chatting with Lincoln, a friend of his who had been his college roommate at Syracuse University, when Lou dropped by.

Little did I know of the intensity that lay ahead of us as we launched his solo career. Our relationship would last five years. We were engaged for several of those years, although we were officially married for less than one.

It wasn’t love at first sight. He wasn’t my type, but he was interesting. My first impression was that he had a serious ego, but I was perceptive enough to know that this often implies, in truth, quite the opposite. He was disarming, because he was the kind of guy who let you know how he felt about you, didn’t play any games.

I found out he was in the Velvet Underground when he took me out a couple of times for dinner, before I left for six months in Europe with friends. He was extremely stressed out, because they were breaking up, and he was embroiled in some conflict with a member of the band. When he learned I had returned from my trip, he got back in touch with me through Lincoln.

At that time, Lou was going through quite a transition. After he left the Velvet Underground, he moved back home with his parents on Long Island. These years have been called his “lost” years. Hardly. Lou came from a marvellous, supportive family, and going home gave him the safety and security to find himself again. He was writing and typing some of it up, as he worked as a typist in his father’s firm. He published several poems in Harvard’s literary magazine.

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Bettye Kronstad marrying Lou Reed in 1973 (1973 Bettye Kronstad)

We dated for a couple of years before we moved in together. Lewis was quiet, reflective – a writer – and a teddy bear. I admired his writing very much. A simplistic explanation for why I married him could be that he wrote “Sweet Jane.”

By 1970, he had left his parents’ home and we moved into our first apartment on the Upper East Side. We were married at home in 1973. I wore white satin bell-bottoms, a strand of classic pearls, a navy blue cashmere sweater, and a smashing pair of red, seriously high platform heels. Lou wore an all-white suit.

The goal of our relationship was to launch his career. I promised I would help him to make it, and put my everything behind him. I was an idealistic kid and in love. I believed in him, his talent and work. Anyone who knew Lou will tell you he trusted very few people, personally or professionally. But he trusted me. I had been embraced by his family, and he knew I wasn’t in it for the money. We were in this together: we were going to make him a star.

He put out three albums during our relationship: Lou Reed(1972), Transformer (1972) and Berlin (1973), with national and international tours to support these albums. After our first US tour, I became his lighting designer/director. I loved lighting and illuminating him and his work. We made a great team. Everyone knew that something important was happening with Lou.

After Transformer was released, the audiences in the US and Europe went wild. They’d never seen or heard anything like him. Before Lewis, the LGBT community were oppressed and completely disenfranchised. He gave a voice to them.

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Bettye Kronstad today (Bettye Kronstad)

“Walk on the Wild Side” changed everything. Lewis was determined to make it on a worldclass scale. He always believed the Velvets should have made it on that level, but they had failed. He was determined that would never happen to him again. The period around Transformer was a great time in our relationship, but launching an international solo career can be exhausting. Lewis was writing and recording albums. We were rehearsing for the road shows that supported them, touring constantly.

He wrote “Perfect Day” about a day we spent together in the park, exactly as he says in the song. We had become officially engaged around then. Although it appears to be a simple love song, its brilliance lies in the suggestion that love between consenting adults is never simple, always complex. He has said the most important lines of “Perfect Day” are, “You made me forget myself. I thought I was someone else, someone good.”

Perhaps I did that for him but, for me, the operative lines are, “You keep me hanging on, you just keep me hanging on,” – not only did Lewis depend upon me to keep him straight, his management team did, too.

You can read the rest of this article on the Independent Newspaper Website

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