Lou Reed — the massively influential rock icon who died today — was midway through recording his lackluster 1972 self-titled solo debut when he accepted an invitation to perform with former Velvet Underground bandmates John Cale and Nico at the Bataclan Club in Paris. Reed had been out of the band for nearly two years at this point, but he spent much of that time working at his father’s tax accounting firm for $40 a week. Simply stated, he was burned out and needed time to decompress.
The show came four years after Lou Reed fired John Cale from the Velvet Underground due to long-simmering musical differences and personality clashes, but by this point a fragile truce had formed. They spent two days rehearsing for the reunion show at the tiny club, and the sixteen-song set was taped for French television. (Here is their performance of “Waiting For the Man.”) According to the Lou Reed biography Transformer, Reed was so overjoyed by the show that he suggested reforming the band. Nico and Cale declined.
Three months after the brief reunion, Lou Reed released his solo debut to scathing reviews and virtually no sales. It peaked at No. 189. It was right around this time that David Bowie become the hottest thing in music, and he told every interviewer that Lou Reed was his hero. An entirely new generation of rock fans learned about the Velvet Underground by watching Bowie perform “White Light/White Heat” on his Ziggy Stardust tour. That summer, David Bowie went into the studio with Reed to produce his second solo album. The first single was “Walk On The Wild Side” and it flew up the charts all over the world, firmly establishing Reed as a solo star.