Lou Reed’s Astrology Chart: What Does It Say?

By Alex Teplitzky, Senior Communications Manager, Library for the Performing Arts Communications
July 6, 2022
The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts
colorful astrology chart

Click image to see larger.

Among the music, video, and artworks, one of the more surprising artifacts you will find in our exhibition, Lou Reed: Caught Between the Twisted Stars, is an astrological chart. The chart was made in 1994 by Billy Name, who was a resident artist, archivist, lighting designer, and photographer, and spent his early years at Andy Warhol’s Factory. He maintained a relationship with Lou Reed, and evidently had an interest in astrology. When the Library for the Performing Arts acquired the Lou Reed archive in 2017, Name’s natal chart was among the objects.

But What Does It Say?

We put the question to Claire Nixon, an astrologer based in Philadelphia. Nixon talked us through a short reading of Lou’s natal chart, and helped us understand what the chart says, and how it may reflect Lou Reed’s life and work. Throughout her reading, we paired her celestial observations with some of the music and objects that are in the exhibition.

What Is an Astrological Birth Chart?

Astrology is the belief that the positioning of planets, stars, and other heavenly bodies has an influence on earthly experiences. When astrology originated, Nixon explained, it was believed to be a way to predict events and gain insight into personal temperaments, patterns, blind spots, and potential solutions to challenges. Astrology has since been used to help people balance situations that might be causing stress and find ways to bring in more happiness and peace. “It’s important to know that there is no scientific proof that astrology has some kind of influence over things,” Nixon said. “We obviously have free will, and you could discover the same things that we see in these charts by growing from your own challenges, or by journaling, working with a psychotherapist, or just having a conversation with somebody you trust. That said, a birth chart can reflect an uncanny resemblance to the unique abilities and growth experiences we have in life, and there are people who find that helpful."

Still, having a live natal chart reading with an astrologer like Nixon, and posthumously reading someone’s chart are two different things: while we can’t ask Lou Reed whether Nixon’s particular reading resonates with him, we can reflect on what we know of his biography and his work to see places that seem to match the chart.

The natal chart is considered a snapshot of the heavens from Earth’s perspective at the moment a person was born. Like notation on a musical score, the chart uses symbols (called glyphs), lines, and numbers that detail and connect the positions of the sun, the moon, planets, and other significant objects in the galaxy within the constellations of the zodiac. Over the centuries, these were conveyed in ornate, hand-drawn celestial maps. Of the two charts that Billy Name created, depicted above, the one on the left, which includes the numbered houses, is the more contemporary representation of an astrological chart that we often see today, and the one we will focus on.

black and white yearbook photo showing four young people standing singing, one is holding a guitar

Freeport High School 1959 yearbook, with photographs of Lou Reed.

Preserved by the Music Division. ID: 58341834

Lou Reed: Musician, Pisces

Lou Reed was born on March 2, 1942, the day before a full moon lunar eclipse, in Freeport, New York at 10am. On the day of his birth, the sun (symbol: ⊙) was in the constellation Pisces (♓︎), shown on the upper west portion of the chart. Pisces energy represents the “transcendence of ordinary life,” Nixon explains, which can often result in creativity. The sun stands for self-expression, “so if you mix those things together you have a whole number of possibilities, and one of them can be self-expression through music.”

As Reed sang in the Velvet Underground song, “Rock ‘N Roll,” “despite all the computations/ You could just change it to that rock and roll station/ And baby, it was all right.” Like the experience of the character in that song, Pisces personality traits tend to melt away boundaries, and that matches exactly with the field of music: music can bring people together. Additionally, Pisces is in the 11th house of the chart, which Nixon explained is “like a punk rock house—it’s kind of where we’re original, or having epiphanies, or being inventive.” Reed was a known rebel, and his work was creative, groundbreaking, innovative, at times even controversial. Boundaries, for Pisces, are fluid, and Reed was known to cross the line.

But the diversity of the signs is vast: while one polarity of Reed’s Pisces sun can be transcendent, the other extreme can reflect experiences of isolation, depression, self-imposed imprisonment, or even addiction. That end of the spectrum is perhaps congruent with the song “Heroin,” in which Reed sings, “I have made the big decision: I'm gonna try to nullify my life.” “All of this is contained in this one sign,” said Nixon, “the signs are pretty broad, but we can get an idea of which sides might be emphasized when we look at how everything in the chart is coming together as a whole.”

Pisces-Virgo Axis: Talkin’ ‘bout New Sensations

Directly opposite the Pisces sun in Reed’s chart, we see the moon (☾) in Virgo, sitting next to the North Node (☊), which many astrologers correlate with life purpose. While Pisces is extremely creative and fluid, in Virgo, said Nixon, “we’re getting organized, we do have boundaries, we care about our health, and we might be more interested in our daily routines, habits, and being grounded. We’re also starting to understand how the mind, emotions, and physical well-being are working together.” This awareness of whole health might be found in one of Reed’s later albums, New Sensations. In the eponymous song, he sings: “I want the principles of a timeless muse/ I want to eradicate my negative views/ And get rid of those people who are always on a down.”

a display case with several Tai Chi-style weapons

Lou Reed’s Tai Chi weapons, and images of him performing with them, included in the exhibition.

Photo by Max Touhey / NYPL

The North Node, a point on the moon’s orbit, represents something that doesn’t necessarily come naturally to a person at first: it is energy people start to understand and integrate over the years. Reed’s North Node is in Virgo, opposite his Pisces sun. Later in his life, Reed cut back on alcohol and drugs, and found pleasure in experiencing the outdoors on his Kawasaki GPz. Even later, he found solace in his devotion to Tai Chi, practiced under teacher Master Ren GuangYi. “Tai Chi is a fantastic way to bring Pisces and Virgo into balance. It’s bringing that Pisces consciousness and fluidity into a set of postures that can feel physically grounding, which is a very Virgo idea.”   

As Nixon explained, reading natal charts can be helpful for understanding where these contradicting energies might lie, and possible ways to find balance. For Reed, that contradiction may have been reflected in the Pisces-Virgo axis, where the potential for the creativity and depression of Pisces needed to be actively balanced with the more centered lifestyle that Virgo offered. Nixon puts it simply: “Pisces is spiritual transcendence, and Virgo is bringing it down to earth through health and routine.”

a silver motorcycle helmet in a clear display case

Lou Reed’s motorcycle helmet, which was used for the cover of Legendary Hearts, and on rides on his GPz.

Photo by Max Touhey / NYPL

From Berlin to “Perfect Day”

Over in Taurus (♉︎) in the first house, we see representations of Saturn (♄), Uranus (♅), and Mars (♂). “In astrology, these planets are viewed as very powerful all on their own,” said Nixon, and when they are all clustered together like this it can suggest great intensity. “Saturn is an energy that can be described as heavy, all about accountability and responsibility, and it can feel a bit oppressive sometimes.” Uranus is rebellion and revolution, while Mars can represent action and healthy assertion, or, on the other extreme, anger and aggression. Seeing these planets bunched up in the difficult-to-avoid first house, Nixon said. “That is not easy energy to walk around with—I’ll put it that way. It could represent an emotional pressure cooker; Saturn with Mars can sometimes reflect frustrated action or extreme discipline—it can go either way—and Uranus can be explosive.”

These three planets, however, form a trine, or triangular angle, to the highest point of the chart, known as the Medium Coeli (MC). The MC represents professional life and public image. In Name’s chart for Reed, trines are represented by the lines with triangles in the middle, expressing a natural flow and harmony between these planets and the MC. “Which says to me,” Nixon suggests, “‘I’m working out this internal pressure through my music.’ This tension is somehow flowing very easily into his public persona and how he’s making his mark on the world, almost like a release valve.”

Reed could be combative with journalists, his collaborators, and his audience. In his work, it comes out in albums like Berlin and Metal Machine Music, which took his audience decades to truly appreciate. He was also known for tough interviews with music critics and reporters. “But,” says Nixon, “there are some other chart aspects that could be viewed as a reflection of some of the music that was more vulnerable, like the songs, ‘Coney Island Baby,’ ‘Perfect Day,’ or ‘Hang on to Your Emotions.’” These songs are notable for their tender tributes to lovers or friends.

A final standout set of aspects involves Neptune (♆), which rules Pisces and happens to be in Virgo in Reed’s chart. “This is yet another representation of the Pisces-Virgo balancing act,” said Nixon. “Neptune is higher consciousness, creativity, music, healing. In Reed’s chart, Neptune is in flowing trines with that Saturn-Mars-Uranus pressure cooker—another release valve pouring right into the transcendence of music, of Tai Chi, of bringing tension into flow in that down-to-earth Virgo way.”

Reed’s Neptune is also in a harmonizing trine with Venus, often associated with love and kindness. “This is compassionate energy,” Nixon says. “So there are these wild, turbulent energies eventually finding ease and balance in a really creative, healing, and grounding way. And when you put it all together, it seems to reflect the diverse emotional range we hear across decades of Lou Reed’s work.” Like the other objects in the exhibition, Lou Reed: Caught Between the Twisted Stars, the astrology chart made by Billy Name offers a way to build a portrait, however incomplete yet tangible, of Lou Reed. “If he were here with us now,” added Nixon, “maybe we could ask if it feels like his life.”