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Lou Reed: Inimitable Rock Legend Dead at 71

Influential rocker who founded the Velvet Underground passed away from undisclosed causes

 

By Alex Baker

 

Lou Reed, the singer/songwriter/guitarist who is best known for being a founding member of the Velvet Underground, passed away Sunday in Long Island at the age of 71. Although the cause of death remains undisclosed at this time, Reed underwent a liver transplant in May.

 

Reed began his more than 50 years in the music business in the early Sixties as an in-house songwriter for the novelty label, Pickwick. By the middle of the decade he’d befriended multi-instrumentalist John Cale and guitarist Sterling Morrison. With drummer Maureen Tucker in tow they formed a group first known as the Primitives, later the Warlocks and then ultimately, the Velvet Underground.

 

Their stripped down, raw, art-school influenced sound attracted the attention of Andy Warhol, who incorporated them into his Exploding Plastic Inevitable. The band, although never a huge commercial success, became synonymous with the Warhol/NYC Sixties. Psychedelic yes, but in a moodier, darker, more avant-garde vein then the technicolor flower power of West Coast bands.

 

Reed’s New York stories were about a world unknown to most American kids at the time. Smoking pot and dropping acid seemed fairly innocuous in the world of the Velvet Underground which was populated by heroine addicts, S&M fetishists and drag queens. After releasing a series of commercially indifferent yet hugely influential albums, Reed departed the Velvets in 1970.

 

By 1972 he’d teamed up with David Bowie and guitarist Mick Ronson to produce the glam-tinged Transformer. That album spawned his breakthough hit “Walk On the Wild Side.” Despite being about drag queens, having a lyric about “colored girls,” and containing an overt reference to oral sex, the song became a gigantic hit, propelling Reed into the mainstream for the first time.

 

 

Reed followed Transformer with a series of interesting, inspired and yet difficult albums. Berlin, Metal Machine Music and Sally Can’t Dance yielded no hits between them, yet cemented Reed’s place as one of the most articulate pushers of rock’s envelope.

 

By the Eighties, he’d put much of his drug use and other bad behavior behind him. Like many of his surviving Sixties brethren, he mellowed out somewhat and released some decent albums along the way; including 1982′s The Blue Mask and 1984′s New Sensations.

 

In 1991 he reunited with John Cale for Songs for Drella, a musical tribute to Andy Warhol. In 1994, the duo reunited with the Velvet Underground for a series of successful European gigs.

 

Around this same time, Reed divorced his first wife, Sylvia Morales. He soon began a relationship with musician/artist Laurie Anderson. They were eventually married in 2008. In the final decade of his life, Reed remained active; releasing 2005′s The Raven, a work inspired by Edgar Allen Poe and even collaborating with Metallica for 2011′s Lulu.

 

Throughout his career, Lou Reed was never what you’d call a prolific hit-maker. But his influence was nonetheless massive. On his own and with the Velvets he helped shape entire genres, punk, new wave, glam rock, alternative rock and indie, among them.

 

 

The simple, bare bones brilliance of Lou Reed is perhaps best defined by his famous quote that “One chord is fine, two chords are pushing it. Three chords and you’re into jazz.”

 

Goodbye Lou Reed. We’re still doing things that you gave up years ago.

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