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Rachel: Lou Reed’s Transsexual Muse!

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.

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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.

5 thoughts on “Rachel: Lou Reed’s Transsexual Muse!”

  1. Legs, is that accurate at the end of Lou’s quote there — how he switched from “she” to “he”? I’m curious as to whether Rachel was a trans woman or a transvestite. Of course, in those days, the lines were far less clear, especially for non-trans folk. I remember reading that description of her in that (still amazing) Lester Bangs piece when Psychotic Reactions & Carburetor Dung came out, and being shocked and dismayed at his offensive language…but part of me appreciated that whoever she was she had shocked the “shock addict” Lester Bangs to the point of his being so obviously disturbed by her. Like you said, she’s a mystery woman…thank you so much for posting about her. RIP Lou.

  2. One question, why write this piece now days after Lou’s death? Like some of the other crap that goes up at Dangerous Minds, it seems like a cheap bit of sensationalism hoping to capitalize and grab some hits. If Lou were alive would it have appeared? I would have loved to know his response.

    Why don’t you seek out Laurie Anderson’s opinion on Rachel??

  3. Robert, why are you so uncomfortable with people writing about his relationship with Rachel? They were together for 3 years, he was clearly very enamored of her, and wrote more songs about her than anyone else he was ever with. Why, because she was transgender she deserves to be erased or is an object of shame or ridicule? That’s the kind of language Lester Bangs and many other people in the media used towards her and I have to think it’s part of the reason he held so much scorn towards many reporters and interviewers.

  4. Anyone recall reading a Creem magazine profile on Reed in 1979, around the time The Bells was released? He is quoted as saying “I’m gay from head to toe.” He also talks about the woman he wrote Pale Blue Eyes for, implies he couldn’t feel anything sexual for her because he was gay.

    I was quite shocked by this article, and I’ve surprised no one else has ever talked about it.

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