Essay by Lou Reed’s Sister Merrill

This is an essay by Merrill Reed Weiner on her brother’s childhood, from her perspective. I just read it and right now I’ve pretty much got a mosh pit of different thoughts slamming around my brain over it.

Points that jump out at me:
We see a fuller picture of how mental health issues impact not just the person experiencing them, but those they are surrounded by. Our families, friends, lovers, handlers whoever they may be…the daughter here speaks of a family confused and frightened, not only by the usual generational clashes, but by things they barely understand, save that these things were circled by stigma and fear like a pair of bloodthirsty sharks. Now, this doesn’t change the Rock-n-Roll narrative for me, the one where we root for Our Hero Lou to escape the suburban Long Island forces of Those Who Don’t Get It to embrace his “junkie faggot” brilliant artist self in the big city. But…the norms were as overwhelmed as he was. And didn’t handle it half as well, in my opinion. (She does inform us they weren’t homophobes though, as commonly claimed. GOOD.)

It Was A Very Different Time. Merrill does seem to get that some things were done to her brother that, no to ways about it, were fucked up. She chalks this up not only to their parents’ lack of understanding, but the medical/psychiatric industry as well. Once a diagnosis of schizophrenia was dropped, the professionals seemed to flounder about as much as anyone else, with the unfortunate result of a lot of useless zapping for poor Lou. (If you’ve ever read Sylvia Plath’s accounts in “The Bell Jar”, ECT was a lot more severe back then. Torturous.)

Misogyny and stupid went hand in hand then. Kind of like they do now. Even though modern literature on the subject is still hypothesizing on what exactly causes the schizophrenic brain, these doctors were all damn sure it was the fault of something Mom did or didn’t do. The classic “Refrigerator Mother” thing. Though admittedly I will say she was following some pretty terrible advice with that “ignore the crying infant” thing, no doubt an edict passed down to her by yet another “expert”.

I get skeptical however, at speculations like this one:

“Would Lou have become the artist he became without the furious anger that the treatments engendered? Did Lou use the treatments as a source of artistic fuel, a means to create an illusion of an abused individual? Who knows?”

Uh-huh. Zap the shit out of your schizo, handlers, they deserve it! It’s good for ’em, they wanna be artists soooo bad. Any complaints they have are “illusions”, fuckin’ crazy schizo artists don’t know what’s good for ’em. Never mind the fact that this flies in the face of several paragraphs earlier, where she describes an already emerging artistic temperament and talent:

“He possessed a fragile temperament. His hyper-focus on the things he liked led him to music and it was there that he found himself.

Self-taught, he began playing the guitar, absorbing every musical influence he could. In high school he formed bands and played in the school variety shows. His band began to get dates at small local clubs, which then expanded to playing gigs in New York City.”

Anyway, I’d be curious what others may take from all this, I guess.



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