Merrill Reed Weiner, Lou Reed’s younger sister, penned a poignant essay for Medium in which she dispelled many rumors about the Velvet Underground frontman’s childhood, including their parents’ alleged homophobia.
“With this piece I hope to provide clarity and context around this section of his life, as it has been inaccurately portrayed by previous authors, to the detriment of my family,” Weiner writes, setting the stage for the intimate narrative. She portrays her “average middle class Jewish family” as caring and benevolent, victims of the times which led to some very difficult years.
Moving from Broolyln to the Long Island suburbs was difficult for young Lou Reed, who felt isolated in the new environment. He was beaten up in school, struggled with social anxiety, and turned to drugs and alcohol by the age of 16. Weiner recalls a “nervous breakdown” Reed suffered during his freshman year at NYU, which led doctors to administer electroconvulsive therapy. According to Weiner, her parents had little understanding of her brother’s issues (unfortunately, it seems the same was true of his doctors), which left them too afraid to protest.
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Furthermore, she writes:
It has been suggested by some authors that ECT was approved by my parents because Lou had confessed to homosexual urges. How simplistic. He was depressed, weird, anxious, and avoidant. My parents were many things, but homophobic they were not. In fact, they were blazing liberals. They were caught in a bewildering web of guilt, fear, and poor psychiatric care. Did they make a mistake in not challenging the doctor’s recommendation for ECT? Absolutely. I have no doubt they regretted it until the day they died. But the family secret continued. We absolutely never spoke about the treatments, then or ever.
Lou Reed died in 2013 from liver disease at the age of 71. He will be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as a solo artist this Saturday.