Sunday Mourning… Lou Reed is dead

loureeddiedRolling Stone is reporting that Velvet Underground founder and rock-n-roll icon Lou Reed has died at the age of 71, some five months after undergoing a liver transplant. Here’s a clip:

…”Produced” by Warhol and met with total commercial indifference when it was released in early 1967, VU’s debut The Velvet Underground & Nico stands as a landmark on par with the Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band and Bob Dylan’s Blonde On Blonde. Reed’s matter-of-fact descriptions of New York’s bohemian demimonde, rife with allusions to drugs and S&M, pushed beyond even the Rolling Stones’ darkest moments, while the heavy doses of distortion and noise for its own sake revolutionized rock guitar. The band’s three subsequent albums – 1968’s even more corrosive sounding White Light/White Heat, 1969’s fragile, folk-toned The Velvet Underground and 1970’s Loaded, which despite being recorded while he was leaving the group, contained two Reed standards, “Rock & Roll” and “Sweet Jane,” were similarly ignored. But they’d be embraced by future generations, cementing the Velvet Underground’s status as the most influential American rock band of all time.

After splitting with the Velvets in 1970, Reed traveled to England and, in characteristically paradoxical fashion, recorded a solo debut backed by members of the progressive-rock band Yes. But it was his next album, 1972’s Transformer, produced by Reed-disciple David Bowie, that pushed him beyond cult status into genuine rock stardom. “Walk On the Wild Side,” a loving yet unsentimental evocation of Warhol’s Factory scene, became a radio hit (despite its allusions to oral sex) and “Satellite of Love” was covered by U2 and others. Reed spent the Seventies defying expectations almost as a kind of sport. 1973’s Berlin was brutal literary bombast while 1974’s Sally Can’t Dance had soul horns and flashy guitar. In 1975 he released Metal Machine Music, a seething all-noise experiment his label RCA marketed as a avant-garde classic music, while 1978’s banter-heavy live album Take No Prisoners was a kind of comedy record in which Reed went on wild tangents and savaged rock critics by name (“Lou sure is adept at figuring out new ways to shit on people,” one of those critics, Robert Christgau, wrote at the time). Explaining his less-than-accommodating career trajectory, Reed told journalist Lester Bangs, “My bullshit is worth more than other people’s diamonds”…

So much I’d like so say… But so little time… I didn’t know Reed. The closest I ever got was sitting in Moe Tucker’s house one day almost 20 years ago, when one of her kid’s referenced that “uncle Louie” had called… Still, though, I feel like I kind of knew the man, having come of age surrounded by his music… I’m not much of one for hero worship. While they might be brilliant, people we put on pedestals, I’ve come to learn the hard way, rarely deserve them. And, judging from what I’ve read and heard over the years, Reed would certainly prove that rule. He was, my most accounts, an angry and difficult man. Still, though, the guy could write a fucking song like no one else, and the world is a much sadder place without him in it, even if, toward the end, he was writing music for house pets.

Here, off the top of my head, are a few of my favorite tracks.

If you’ve never listened to any of his music before, I’d suggest you leave your house this instant, walk to your nearest record store (which may well be a few hundred miles away at this point in American history), and buy either the Peel Slowly & See box set, New York or Take No Prisoners: Live. (Yeah, there might be better stuff out there, but I think these are probably the most accessible points of entry for someone looking to set out on a musical expedition.) They’ll change your fucking life. I promise.

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  1. Tim
    Posted October 27, 2013 at 2:06 pm | Permalink

    And then there were two.


  2. Posted October 27, 2013 at 2:41 pm | Permalink

    I pretty much hated most of what the Velvets did, Loaded being one of the worst records ever made, in my humble and worthless opinion.

    Lou Reed as a human and an artist, however, was pretty amazing. What most considered his “worst” was his best. He really didn’t care whether anyone like any of it and seemed to revel in being hated and disunderstood.

  3. Posted October 27, 2013 at 2:49 pm | Permalink

    I shouldn’t have said that the closest I ever got to him was at Moe Tucker’s kitchen table. We were actually much closer than that, at least geographically speaking, when I lived in New Jersey, and he lived in the town right next door. I never had the occasion to talk with him, but he bought his records in downtown Newton from my friend Gillian, and bought his acne medication from my friend Sue. So, technically, I was closer to him then…. just a heartbeat away from his records and meds.

  4. Posted October 27, 2013 at 2:53 pm | Permalink

    It’s hard to stay relevant for 50 years, Pete.

  5. anonymous
    Posted October 27, 2013 at 3:03 pm | Permalink

    A friend on Facebook is telling everyone that Reed co-wrote Kiss’s World Without Heroes. Please tell me it’s not true.

  6. anonymous
    Posted October 27, 2013 at 3:08 pm | Permalink

    Well, apparently it is true.

  7. Elf
    Posted October 27, 2013 at 6:47 pm | Permalink

    He was a workman. He started in a song-writing factory. It doesn’t surprise me at all that he wrote for Kiss, or for anyone else. He was a working musician. As for the “music for dogs” thing, I blame his wife Laurie Anderson. It was performance art.

  8. Jean Henry
    Posted October 27, 2013 at 6:53 pm | Permalink

    Being a tough interview and a tough critic does not an asshole make. Almost every artist I respect gives a shitty interview most of the time. Addiction will make an asshole, but my understanding is that, once clean, he was grumpy but sweet in person. I wonder if your Jersey friends had that experience. This interview with Laurie Anderson doesn’t show a jerk.

  9. great reporting
    Posted October 27, 2013 at 7:49 pm | Permalink

    “Lou wrote a majority of the Velvet Underground hits.” TMZ

  10. MX missile
    Posted October 27, 2013 at 8:17 pm | Permalink

    In his honor, I say we all do The Ostrich at midnight sharp.

  11. Posted October 27, 2013 at 8:49 pm | Permalink

    He may well have mellowed in old age, Jean. I imagine quite a few people do. Still, though, I don’t think I’m overstating the fact when I say that the man had a reputation for being a dick… which, by the way, doesn’t lessen his contributions as an artist, at least in my eyes, one bit. I can still love a person’s work while acknowledging that he might have been flawed in other ways. I love the hell out of Orson Welles, knowing full well that he was a liar and an abusive drunk. Brilliant people are complicated. And I’m OK with that… And, no, I didn’t just base my comment on a few interviews where he came across as gruff.

    Let me see if I can think of a story to share….

    As for my friends, no, he didn’t yell at them or anything. He wasn’t friendly either, as I recall. He was just Lou Reed.

  12. Posted October 27, 2013 at 9:12 pm | Permalink

    I liked him because he was an asshole. It was his best quality.

  13. Posted October 27, 2013 at 9:18 pm | Permalink

    OK, I found something, but now I don’t want to share it. The man just died. And I love his music. And the incident that I’ve got in mind took place in ’73. So, yeah, let’s just focus on the nice stuff for the time being… And I’ll agree with you that he might have made steady improvements between then and when he died…

  14. Knox
    Posted October 28, 2013 at 9:10 am | Permalink

    I object to Rolling Stone’s uses of quotation marks around the word “producer” in noting Andy Warhol’s role in bringing the first VU record into existence. He may not have twisted knobs, but he’s very much responsible for the sound that was captured, and Reed has gone on record several times saying so. If not for Andy, it would have been a much different, and much less honest, raw recording.

  15. Eel
    Posted October 28, 2013 at 9:17 am | Permalink

    Sadly this is diverting attention from the death of Hal Needham, the director of “Smokey and the Bandit” and “The Cannonball Run.”

  16. dot dot dash
    Posted October 28, 2013 at 9:37 am | Permalink

    Let’s not forget that he also invented rap.

  17. Mr. X
    Posted October 28, 2013 at 1:22 pm | Permalink

    PRESS: Are there any things in life you like better than others?

    REED: No.

  18. Jean Henry
    Posted October 28, 2013 at 3:11 pm | Permalink

    Mr X’s interview link is great. It shows a very funny man, not an asshole. And a famous person with a sense of privacy and a will to preserve it. He also says something meaningful in not answering straight (while masterfully appearing to be very straight in reply) . Really we’re all fools and it’s ok to point that out. Sometimes convention is the asshole. Journalists are dull, dull dull and more so everyday. They all ask questions about everything but the work. If you make music and want to talk about music, not your personal journey, they hate you. If you are famous and have the great privilege of telling them to fuck-off, by all means do. I’d take 10 of those assholes for each of the average kind.

  19. NJR
    Posted October 29, 2013 at 8:47 am | Permalink

    No retrospective is complete without a link to Metal Machine Music.

  20. Posted November 6, 2013 at 8:25 pm | Permalink

    Laurie Anderson has a lovely piece in Rolling Stone today. Here’s how it ends.

    …Lou was sick for the last couple of years, first from treatments of interferon, a vile but sometimes effective series of injections that treats hepatitis C and comes with lots of nasty side effects. Then he developed liver cancer, topped off with advancing diabetes. We got good at hospitals. He learned everything about the diseases, and treatments. He kept doing tai chi every day for two hours, plus photography, books, recordings, his radio show with Hal Willner and many other projects. He loved his friends, and called, texted, e-mailed when he couldn’t be with them. We tried to understand and apply things our teacher Mingyur Rinpoche said – especially hard ones like, “You need to try to master the ability to feel sad without actually being sad.”

    Last spring, at the last minute, he received a liver transplant, which seemed to work perfectly, and he almost instantly regained his health and energy. Then that, too, began to fail, and there was no way out. But when the doctor said, “That’s it. We have no more options,” the only part of that Lou heard was “options” – he didn’t give up until the last half-hour of his life, when he suddenly accepted it – all at once and completely. We were at home – I’d gotten him out of the hospital a few days before – and even though he was extremely weak, he insisted on going out into the bright morning light.

    As meditators, we had prepared for this – how to move the energy up from the belly and into the heart and out through the head. I have never seen an expression as full of wonder as Lou’s as he died. His hands were doing the water-flowing 21-form of tai chi. His eyes were wide open. I was holding in my arms the person I loved the most in the world, and talking to him as he died. His heart stopped. He wasn’t afraid. I had gotten to walk with him to the end of the world. Life – so beautiful, painful and dazzling – does not get better than that. And death? I believe that the purpose of death is the release of love.

    At the moment, I have only the greatest happiness and I am so proud of the way he lived and died, of his incredible power and grace.

    I’m sure he will come to me in my dreams and will seem to be alive again. And I am suddenly standing here by myself stunned and grateful. How strange, exciting and miraculous that we can change each other so much, love each other so much through our words and music and our real lives.

  21. Tim
    Posted December 6, 2013 at 9:56 am | Permalink

    It’s clearly fiction toward the end, but I found this article about the murder of Lou Reed (at the hands of Lady Gaga’s management) to be interesting.

  22. Kim
    Posted December 16, 2013 at 12:15 pm | Permalink

    There’s a piece about Lou Reed by Maureen Tucker in The Guardian.

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