In 1968, when Bettye Kronstad was 19 years old, she met and was tenaciously pursued by Lou Reed. She witnessed the demise of the Velvet Underground and the couple moved into Reed’s parents’ house as he considered whether to pursue music or poetry while working for his father as a typist. Bettye was there when Lou was courted by Bowie, she shared a perfect day of pre-zoo sangria in Central Park and was lighting director on the Transformer tour. Idyllic? Not exactly.
Bettye was Lou’s nursemaid as he serially drank Red Label Johnnie Walker to insensibility. He was manipulative, abusive, alcoholic. There were prolonged bouts of cocaine and speed use, infidelity, mood swings and passive aggression to contend with. And worse.
Kronstad’s style is florid, but eminently readable. Her recall of conversational detail is too sharp – incidents can feel like extracts from a novel, which doesn’t encourage credence. Nor do howling factual errors: describing the Velvets’ last Max’s show in detail right down to “Cale’s droning”, in spite of the fact that John Cale had left the band two years previously.
Later we learn that Reed left the Velvets because “he wasn’t happy with the direction the band was veering toward under Cale’s influence” – another glaring inaccuracy Kronstad’s editor should have corrected.
Whatever, Perfect Day offers some remarkable insights into Reed’s myriad defining neuroses. And no, the couple didn’t live happily ever after. Well, not together at least.