The source of inspiration for most of the songs on Coney Island Baby, Lou Reed’s transvestite lover and muse Rachel (Tommy) has always been somewhat of a mystery figure. In all that’s been written about Reed, Rachel is barely a footnote. Despite playing a significant romantic role in Reed’s life and even touring with him during the mid-70s, Rachel managed to keep her private life private. Even details of her death are vague. She is rumored to have died in the early 90s.
Rachel (Photo: Mick Rock.)
In an article for Creem, Lester Bangs’s description of Rachel was so vicious that Reed never forgave his friend and staunchest supporter. Bangs described Rachel with stunning insensitivity:
“[L]ong dark hair, bearded, tits, grotesque, abject… like something that might have grovellingly scampered in when Lou opened the door to get milk or papers in the morning.”
Bangs later apologized, claiming it was one of the few things he ever regretted writing.
Others found Rachel beautiful and elegant. She was half Mexican Indian and, in the words of John Cale, a “long-limbed, long-haired transvestite.” Bangs, in a less bitchy mood, wrote that “If the album Berlin was melted down and reshaped in human form, it would be this creature.” Which, depending how you felt about that album, could be seen as quite complimentary
There’s no question that she made the moody Reed a happier person.
In an interview with Bambi magazine, Reed described his first and further impressions of Rachel:
It was in a late night club in Greenwich Village. I’d been up for days as usual and everything was at that super-real, glowing stage. I walked in there and there was this amazing person, this incredible head, kind of vibrating out of it all. Rachel was wearing this amazing make-up and dress and was obviously in a different world to anyone else in the place. Eventually I spoke and she came home with me. I rapped for hours and hours, while Rachel just sat there looking at me saying nothing. At the time I was living with a girl, a crazy blonde lady and I kind of wanted us all three to live together but somehow it was too heavy for her. Rachel just stayed on and the girl moved out. Rachel was completely disinterested in who I was and what I did. Nothing could impress her. He’d hardly heard my music and didn’t like it all that much when he did.
Rachel knows how to do it for me. No one else ever did before. Rachel’s something else.”
READ MORE AT: Dangerous Minds | Rachel: Lou Reed’s transsexual muse.