10 Great Books on Lou Reed, The Velvet Underground, and 1960s Counterculture

By Nicholas Parker
March 2, 2017
The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts
Lou Reed

Lou Reed. Photo: Julian Schnabel.

The Library has just announced the acquisition of the Lou Reed Archive, and we're celebrating the life and legacy of this rock icon with a series of displays, programs, and performances at the Stephen A. Schwarzman Building and the Library for the Performing Arts. Lou Reed's incredible music career, both as a solo artist and as a member of the Velvet Underground, spanned over 50 years and influenced generations. If you want to learn more about Lou Reed, the Velvet Underground, or the artistic, cultural, and political scene of the 1960s when he rose to prominence, here are 10 great books to check out at your local branch.

Rock, Counterculture and the Avant-Garde, 1966-1970: How The Beatles, Frank Zappa, and The Velvet Underground Defined an Era by Doyle Greene

Rock, Counterculture, and the Avant-Garde, 1966-1970

Scholar Doyle Greene analyzes how the Velvet Underground incorporated avant-garde into rock, and how their experimental style played a huge role in their influence on the genre for decades to come.

Andy Warhol: A Biography by Wayne Koestenbaum

Andy Warhol

Andy Warhol was an incredibly important figure in the development of the Velvet Underground; he was their manager, and his notoriety and connections helped elevate their status in the New York music scene. Check out this biography of the famed American artist for more on the fascinating intersection between pop art and rock music in 1960's New York City.

The Sixties: Years of Hope, Days of Rage by Todd Gitlin

 Years of Hope, Days of Rage

For a primer on the anti-authority movements of the 1960's, particularly the nationwide protests against the Vietnam War, consult this acclaimed book by scholar and critic Todd Gitlin, former president of Students for a Democratic Society.

Just Kids by Patti Smith

Just Kids

Patti Smith's spellbinding memoir and account of her relationship with Robert Mapplethorpe includes vivid stories of the music scene in New York in the late 60's and 70's, when Smith, the Velvet Underground, and others were shaping New York punk at clubs like CBGB and Max's Kansas City.

There's a Riot Going On: Revolutionaries, Rock Stars, and the Rise and Fall of the '60s by Peter Doggett

There's a Riot Going On

For a wider picture of the intersection between music and politics in the 1960's, read this history by Peter Doggett on how leftist movements, rock, and folk revival conflicted and sometimes collaborated in the turbulent decade.

The Eve of Destruction: How 1965 Transformed America by James T. Patterson

The Eve of Destruction

1965, the year the Velvet Underground were introduced to Andy Warhol, was a year of great political upheaval across the country, including the Selma to Montgomery Marches, anti-Vietnam protests, and the Watts Rebellion. Historian James T. Patterson chronicles the tumultuous year that divided America, eroded domestic peace, and sparked new changes in culture and music in this incisive book.

Lou Reed's New York by Lou Reed

Lou Reed's New York

In addition to his astounding music career, Lou Reed was also a gifted photographer. This volume collects over 100 of his photographs of New York, the city that played host to and was shaped by Reed's music.

Witness to the Revolution: Radicals, Resisters, Vets, Hippies, and the Year America Lost Its Mind and Found Its Soul by Clara Bingham

 Radicals, Resisters, Vets, Hippies, and the Year America Lost Its Mind and Found Its Soul

This oral history, constructed from dozens of interviews with activist figures such as Bill Ayers, Carl Bernstein, and Jane Fonda, traces the explosion of the myriad social movements that defined America's protests in the volatile 1960's.

I Dreamed I Was a Very Clean Tramp by Richard Hell

I Dreamed I Was a Very Clean Tramp

Richard Hell, founding member of Television and frontman of Richard Hell and the Voidoids, was one of the most prominent figures in the 1970's punk scene, which was heavily influenced by Lou Reed and the Velvet Underground. Hell details his journey from anonymity and poverty to punk rock stardom in this gripping memoir.

Boom! Voices of the Sixties by Tom Brokaw

Boom! Voices of the Sixties

Famed journalist Tom Brokaw offers this sweeping portrait of 1960's America, touching on music, race relations, the feminist movement, and war in interviews with Bill Clinton, Gloria Steinem, and the Rev. Andrew Young, among others.

Celebrating Lou Reed: 1942-2013

Beginning March 2, 2017, in honor of the 75th anniversary of Lou Reed's birthday and our recent acquisition of the Lou Reed Archive, the Library is kicking off a celebration of the late rock icon with free limited-time collection displays at two locations—the Stephen A. Schwarzman Building on 42nd Street and the Library for the Performing Arts at Lincoln Center. In addition, NYPL is hosting a pair of public programs that bring to life Reed's legacy, including his reimagining of The Raven on March 13 and his conceptual installation and soundscape, Drones, on March 15. Space is limited. Registration is required for each event.