Lou Reed, one of the most influential and respected musicians in rock history, is dead. His impact on rock music, both as a member of The Velvet Underground and as a solo artist, truly cannot be overstated. Details of his death are still coming in though he underwent a liver transplant in the spring. He was 71.
Lou Reed grew up in an affluent Jewish family on New York’s Long Island but it was downtown Manhattan with which he will forever be linked. Reed arrived in the city in the early 1960s and immersed himself in its avant-garde arts scene and underground street life. Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame inductees The Velvet Underground formed in 1964 and made their reputation on Reed’s squalling guitar and candid songs about drug addiction and sexuality. They recorded their debut album under the tutelage of pop art sensation Andy Warhol and produced three more innovative albums before succumbing to the pressures of drug abuse and limited sales. It is often said that not many people bought The Velvet Underground’s albums when they were released but that everyone who did ended up starting a band. David Bowie, R.E.M. and Sonic Youth are but a few of the many bands who have cited the group as an inspiration.
Lou Reed’s solo career began in 1971. His critical reputation rests on his early ‘70s albums Transformer and Berlin, which continued his practice of creating prosaic and harrowing first-hand narratives of damaged people and their broken lives. Though his overtly commercial live album Rock ‘n’ Roll Animal recast his Velvet Underground classics as twin guitar ‘70s hard rock, and reaped strong record sales because of it, his 1974 double-album noise symphony Metal Machine Music nearly ended his career. He gradually clawed his way back to the mainstream, releasing a series of critically well-received and popular albums throughout the ‘80s and ‘90s. Having influenced countless punk rock and new wave bands, Reed eventually grew into his role as elder statesmen of alternative music, sometimes cantankerous but always respected. Most recently he collaborated on the 2011 song-cycle and album Lulu with heavy metal giants Metallica. The album, though lauded as a brave musical collaboration, was not well received by Metallica fans or music critics, proving the punk rock Godfather could court controversy even in his old age.