Rock n Roll poet Lou Reed, a founding member and principal songwriter of the massively influential band ‘The Velvet Underground’ – as well as a globally recognized recording artist in his own right, has died of liver failure, he was 71 years old.
Reed’s songs were groundbreaking in that they openly discussed issues like outsider sexuality and hard drug use and then married these lyrics to alternative, sometimes avant-garde music.
Reed was a recording artist in every sense of the word. Throughout his life and career, his work was challenging, powerful and often divisive. However, he was also no stranger to a catchy, crowd-pleasing pop chorus, as famous hits like ‘Perfect Day’, Satellite of Love’ and ‘Walk on the Wild Side’ will attest. Lou Reed’s work was the ultimate meeting point between the urban culture of the New York City streets and the highbrow insouciance of the uptown art galleries.
Supremely influential to the development of Pop, Glam, Indie, Punk and lots more besides, Reed was considered to be a godfather of alternative sounds.
Lou Reed was born in Brooklyn in 1942, when World War 2 was still raging around the world. He studied at Syracuse University and, around this time, became a disciple of the poet Delmore Schwartz. Upon graduation, he worked for Pickwick records as a songwriter, generating at least one minor hit. Eventually, he met Welsh violinist John Cale and, together with drummer Maureen Tucker and guitarist Sterling Morrison, formed The Velvet Underground.
The Velvet Underground were an instant hit on the New York music scene, so much so that pop artist Andy Warhol became a fan and incorporated them into his various projects. Warhol would eventually be credited as the producer of the band’s 1967 debut album, for which he also provided the artwork. The band were white hot creatively for three years, until their last album ‘Loaded’ was released in 1970.
Commercially, however, the Velvet Underground were completely ignored at the time. It was only later that they would be considered by a new generation of musicians as a seminal, trailblazing band.
Reed’s first solo album (where he was backed by the progressive rock band ‘Yes’) wasn’t a hit, but his glam-inflexed, David Bowie produced follow up, ‘Transformer’ became a worldwide smash and yielded several enduring pop classics.
For the rest of the decade, Reed refused to be pigeon holed as simply a ‘Rock’ or ‘Pop’ performer, instead producing albums like the tragic, story-based ‘Berlin’ or the savagely experimental ‘Metal Machine Music’. ‘Coney Island Baby’ was perhaps his most accessible record after ‘Transformer’, it was a hard-edged song-set that featured a collection of radio friendly alternative rock tunes and it was well received by the majority of fans.
Over the decades, Reed’s rebellious music continued to divide and delight in equal measure. Albums that had some fans and critics cheering had others scratching their heads. He was wholly capable of being supremely heartfelt and candid one minute and yet totally aloof and incomprehensible the next. He was, however, never less than 100% true to his incomparable artistic spirit.
In the 2000’s, Reed became a devoted practitioner of Tai Chi; he based an album on the works of Edgar Allen Poe and he worked as a photographer (which had been a side passion of his for many years). He also became even more heavily involved in social and environmental activism. His most recent record was released in 2011; it was produced in collaboration with Thrash Metal giants ‘Metallica’.
To say that Lou Reed made a huge impact on popular music would be an absolute understatement; to say that Lou Reed is one of the founding fathers of alternative music/culture would be doing the man something of a disservice. In truth, Lou Reed wrote the book on Rock n Roll, before summarily burning it and doing whatever he felt like doing, whenever he felt like doing it. He will be missed.