Aidan Levy, a second year Ph.D. candidate in English and Comparative Literature, has published his first book, Dirty Blvd., a comprehensive biography of Lou Reed, the legendary rock artist who helmed the Velvet Underground, known for his hit “Walk on the Wild Side” and dozens of critically acclaimed albums.
“I've always been a huge fan of his music,” says Levy, who had been contemplating writing a book-length appreciation of Reed’s work since he graduated from Brown University in 2008. Levy describes seeing Reed’s performance of Ray Charles’s “Night time is the Right Time” with Macy Gray at the Apollo Theater in 2011 as a tipping point for starting the project.
Although Levy had completed much of the groundwork for the project by the time he matriculated to Columbia, he recalls the difficulty of balancing publisher’s deadlines with coursework: “I could not have completed the book without the support and flexibility of my advisors and the faculty in the department. After I delivered the manuscript during winter break in 2014, suffice to say I took a long nap.”
As a graduate student Levy focuses on jazz studies and twentieth-century modernism, areas of scholarship that often overlap with the subject of Dirty Blvd, he notes: “Reed cultivated many connections to the jazz community and was a published poet.” Levy’s early research led him to Syracuse University, which houses Reed’s juvenilia in the Lonely Woman Quarterly, a literary journal he founded there. Some of Reed’s subsequent influences are surprisingly literary as well. “He was heavily influenced by T.S. Eliot and his college mentor, the ill-fated poet Delmore Schwartz, who is best known for the short story ‘In Dreams Begin Responsibilities’,” Levy points out.
Dirty Blvd.: The Life and Music of Lou Reed is published by Chicago Review Press. Kirkus Reviews writes that “the details of Reed’s ascendance, fall, and comeback as a solo artist are so vital and culturally significant they read like a Hollywood script, and Levy ably captures it,” while Booklist has said that “Levy has produced an informative and insightful look at a rock star and songwriter whose work always cut a little deeper than that of his peers.”