Lou Reed, the so-called godfather of punk, whose embryonic sounds of that genre and combinations of avant-garde dirty rock and roll helped propel him to become a legendary artist by way of The Velvet Underground and his own solo projects, has died at the age of 71, according to Rolling Stone. The cause of death is unknown at this time, but Reed had undergone a liver transplant back in May [see Update below].
For the Brooklyn-born Reed, it ends a life that was labyrinthine, filled with color and mayhem, sadness, poetry, tender regret, and razor sharp aggression. Reed took early rock and roll and doo wop, and mixed it with the sounds and styles of the mid 1960s, the Andy Warhol New York City which was crystallized by way of illicit drugs, adventurous sexuality and exploring themes, and going to places unknown; not even The Beatles tread to some of the naked, raw narratives that Lou Reed and The Velvet Underground went to in their songwriting.
While The Velvet Underground, best known for their The Velvet Underground & Nico album (with the Andy Warhol banana cover), never rose above being a sub-cult group during its original tenure, its influence runs as broad and as deep as some of the great masters spread across various musical genres. Songs like the celebratory “Rock and Roll,” the anxiously strung out “I’m Waiting For The Man,” the stark “Heroin,” and the sadomasochistic “Venus in Furs” were just a few of the mini masterpieces of sound that emanated from the mind and warped schism of Lou Reed’s psyche. He went where (at the time) everyone feared to tread, and not only did he get in, but he turned us all on.
By the time the early 1970s arrived, and The Velvet Underground was defunct as a Lou Reed project, he delved into a solo career that still followed those musical tenets and was at once early cabaret, theater, and androgyny meets rock-and-roll of the filthiest order. Blending the sounds of people like Iggy Pop and David Bowie (who also produced Reed’s most famous solo album, Transformer (which I wrote about here), which sported songs like the sneering “Vicious,” the Andy Warhol on Broadway perfect slice of paper cut pop in “Perfect Day,” the fragile like charred glass of a love song in “Satellite of Love,” and his biggest hit, “Walk on the Wild Side,” a song in which, like the album itself, was a sort of Glam and Androgyny New York City for Dummies primer), Reed became a man of his own in the musical world, and having had the good fortune and creative timing to be right on the precipice of the NYC punk movement, which was just starting to flower and crystallize. Albums like the musically muscular and out on the tiles records like Rock and Roll Animal (which even found Reed a new audience in the classic rock market), the conceptually adventurous Berlin, and the aurally incomprehensible Metal Machine Music, which was nothing more than sheets of white noise, mixed, remixed and re-remixed, only added to the Lou Reed mystique and legend. Visualized in his now-classic visage, dark sunglasses and short haircut, decked in leather, it personified a rebel without any of the pretense, a man who musically moved cautiously and swiftly, like a jungle cat in the twilight moors, always conscious of the surroundings, ready to pounce and dazzle once again.
And even as the decades wore on after his 1970s solo success and most of his projects were met by audiences back on the Velvet Underground cult levels, projects that varied in tone, tempo, musical color, light, shade; albums, books of photography, collaborations with people like his wife (innovative artist/musician Laurie Anderson) and a band as varied and a what the fuck never-to-be-thought of collaboration with Metallica on the album Lulu, it kept Lou Reed in the public eye, the artistic eye, it kept building the bridges of generations of fans who followed him from the beginning, or the ones who got picked up alongside the road. Either way, what they discovered in Lou Reed was a man who took no guff, no shit, he really had a swagger that seemed like a birthright, he didn’t have to earn it, just looking at him gave off a sort of sheen that had its place in the streets, like a carving of lovers initials in a dilapidated oak, except that the lovers are heroin addicts. Or misfits. It was for those people Reed spoke of the most, the life afflicted, and what the results of that were. His characters in his songs weren’t far from us and certainly weren’t far from the man himself. His death creates a gargantuan void, not only in his respective genre, but in the entire musical universal scope and vision as well.
Remember the legendary Lou Reed, who already sealed all the platitudes years ago that will deservedly be given to him now in his passing. He walked on the wild side to the dirty boulevard but still made sure to spend the perfect day with us. Sally might not have been to dance, but the rest of us sure did, metaphorically and emotionally, and on the rare occasion even literally, to all the music that came from the mighty quill of a mighty soul filled with electric neon energy, that came from the mighty Lou Reed. The silence that’s now coming from the biggest amplifiers is deafening. RIP Lou.
RIP Lou Reed
March 2, 1942 – October 27, 2013
[UPDATE 10/28/2013]: The NY Times confirms the cause of death as liver disease.
The cause was liver disease, said Dr. Charles Miller of the Cleveland Clinic in Ohio, where Mr. Reed had liver transplant surgery this year and was being treated again until a few days ago.
Reed died on Sunday at his at his home in Amagansett, N.Y., on Long Island, where he lived with wife and fellow musician Laurie Anderson.
[Source: Rolling Stone]