Lou Reed, frontman, main songwriter, and co-founder of The Velvet Underground and who has been called the most influential performer in rock and roll history, has died aged 71. Reed left the group and had his first and only solo hit with Walk on the Wild Side. Rolling Stone magazine reported that the artist often referred to as a punk poet died on Sunday.
Andrew Wylie, confirmed that the American musician/songwriter passed away in Southampton, New York, after complications arose from his Liver transplant in May this year. Wylie, Lou’s literary agent, revealed that Reed had been in poor health for some months. The punk poet lived with his wife Laurie Anderson in Southampton. Reed married Anderson after divorcing the English designer Sylvia Morales.
Lewis Allan “Lou” Reed was born on March 2, 1942 in Brooklyn. Reed grew spent his childhood years in Freeport, Long Island. He began playing the guitar in high school and one of his first jobs as a musician was in a “doo wop” band called The Jades. Reed was bisexual and as a result he was made to undergo electro shock therapy to “cure him.” He later wrote a song about the experience titled Kill Your Sons.
Reed co-founded The Velvet Underground with Welsh musician John Cale who had travelled to America to study music. The two played together briefly in an “ad-hoc” band called The Primates and Cale lived with Reed in New York’s Lower East Side. The two formed The Velvet Underground which became known as one of the most influential bands in “rock history.” In 1996 the band was welcomed into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
After Lou Reed left to work on his solo career, released many songs, Walk on the Wild Side, Dirty Blvd and Perfect day, to name a few. The “punk poet” only received one Grammy award before he died at 71.
Reed was known as a “tough guy” performer. His cynical outlook on life was reflected in his music and his musical style. His guitar playing was often referred to as “grinding and slashing.” While Lou never had the commercial success of his peers, he became the most influential performer in rock and roll since the emergence of Bob Dylan. His solo career mimicked the success of his first group The Velvet Underground in lacking commercial recognition but still influenced generations of musicians. His death at 71 has left a hole in the music industry that will never be filled.
Lou Reed became a confidante and friend to Andy Warhol and his hit song Walk on the Wild Side was all about the “cronies’ of Warhol’s who hung around the infamous Factory. All about transvestites and prostitutes, each segment of the song introduced a new “real” character. Warhol became one of Lou’s early patrons.
His on top 20 hit was Walk on the Wild side. While the song was primarily about Warhol’s followers and groupies, it was also about the New York that Reed knew and was a denizen of. His songs were filled with characters who were “drag queens” druggies and hard gritty “violence.” His music was described as being conversational while being complex. Reed has also been given the same sort of New York auteur status as film directors Martin Scorsese and Woody Allen.
Despite his early reputation for being on “the fringe” and being labelled an “outlaw” Reed would go on to play at the White House and be published in The New Yorker. After The Velvet Underground was welcomed into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, the groups first album was entered into the registry of the Library of Congress in 2006.
Lou Reed’s entire live could be said to have been a Walk on the Wild Side. The performer was branded as a tough guy and punk poet called the most influential performer in rock and roll history. His legacy, at 71, is a long career that, despite its lack of commercial success and only one song in the top 20, changed the lives of many musical artists. His musical contemporaries and others from the world of entertainment have gone onto Twitter to post their sadness at Reed’s passing.
By Michael Smith