When Lou Reed Was Deemed Too Punk For London
By 1977, Lou Reed's influence could be seen and heard across the era's musical landscape. Facets of the budding punk and new wave genres boasted a raw sound, transgressive lyrics, and a blasé counterculture image that matched the blueprint Reed had established with The Velvet Underground a decade earlier.
Reed was “happy to lap up his newfound adulation,” wrote Mick Wall in the biography Lou Reed: The Life. He spent time “checking out the new wave of bands then playing CBGBs” and “talking trash to the kids from the new fanzine Punk, getting off on seeing how much they were getting off on the fact he was talking to them.”
The new punk kids on the scene, however, helped throw a wrench in his 1977 European tour plans. That May, Reed was set to play a series of shows at the London Palladium to promote his album Rock and Roll Heart. The 2286-seat venue had hosted American musical dignitaries like Frank Sinatra, Judy Garland, Nat King Cole, Johnny Cash, and Roy Orbison. However, Lou Reed would have to wait to join that celebrated list; on March 20, the Palladium canceled his May shows—and some of the blame was placed on the new legion of his musical offspring.
As Reed was preparing to cross the Pond, The Sex Pistols had smashed their way into the British public's consciousness. They were known for their rowdy, booze-soaked concerts, and on December 1, 1976, the band made a notorious TV appearance where they cussed out Thames Television host Bill Grundy. According Punk Diary: The Ultimate Trainspotter's Guide to Underground Rock by George Gimarc, a media frenzy followed, and venues across the country responded by canceling shows the band had booked for their "Anarchy in the UK Tour."
At the time, Reed had no direct association with The Sex Pistols; he was a 35-year-old introspective musician whose latest album featured a number of throwback songs about boogying. Shortly after the cancelation, Reed told British music publication Melody Maker the venue pulled his show because they had lumped him in with the most controversial band in the UK, The Sex Pistols. Due to his influence, he was deemed punk by association.
Still, The Sex Pistols may not have been entirely to blame. In Dirty Blvd.: The Life and Music of Lou Reed, Aidan Levy speculates that the owners of the Palladium may have also remembered Reed’s infamous February 1975 visit to the Palazzo Dello Sport in Rome. Protestors angry about the high price of concert tickets became unruly and ripped apart pieces of the venue, costing extensive damage. This event also contributed to the slowdown of rock show imports to Italy.
Nonetheless, Reed was deeply upset about being deemed persona non grata by the Palladium. "I’m on the way to Stockholm where the temperature is below zero,” Reed said in a press conference after the cancelation, “but it’s much colder in the heart of the person who banned me.”
This punk rock tale manages to have a happy ending, however. Lou Reed was able to reschedule his London shows at a new venue in 1977. By 1989, the Palladium's punk-rock rage died down sufficiently to finally invite him back.