Glam rock, which first sashayed onstage in the early 1970s, rebuked rock music's customary machismo, and no album did the job better than former Velvet Underground front man Lou Reed's second solo effort, 1972's Transformer. On the occasion of the record's 50th anniversary, the perceptive and consummately witty Simon Doonan (Beautiful People; Drag: The Complete Story) presents Transformer: A Story of Glitter, Glam Rock, and Loving Lou Reed, in which he asks the musical question, "How did Lou become the guy who decided to fill the LGBTQ+ void and skew an entire album toward me and my cohort?"
To answer the question, Doonan double-tracks his own story with that of Reed's trailblazing album. Doonan was born in England in 1952; after he came of age, he didn't fully see himself reflected in rock music until he encountered Transformer, whose "Walk on the Wild Side" was a veritable roll call of real-life challengers to heteronormativity. The song was just one of the album's salutes to gender noncompliance. Doonan reports that Reed explained his intentions with the record a few years later: "I thought it was dreary for gay people to have to listen to straight people's love songs."
Doonan's book builds to a song-by-song anatomization of Transformer. He's a fount of swashbuckling hyperbole, and hardly a sentence wouldn't work as a pull quote. Of "Andy's Chest," an homage to Warhol, friend and mentor to Reed, Doonan writes, "The subtext in the mood of this song is clear: Being groovy will not save you." But Lou Reed's Transformer might. --Nell Beram, author and freelance writer