Lou Reed
1942 - 2013
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NEW YORK (AP) - Lou Reed, the punk poet of rock ' n' roll who profoundly influenced generations of musicians as leader of the Velvet Underground and remained a vital solo performer for decades after, died Sunday at age 71.

Reed died in Southampton, New York, of an ailment related to his recent liver transplant, according to his literary agent, Andrew Wylie, who added that Reed had been in frail health for months. Reed shared a home in Southampton with his wife and fellow musician, Laurie Anderson, whom he married in 2008.

Reed never approached the commercial success of such superstars as the Beatles and Bob Dylan, but no songwriter to emerge after Dylan so radically expanded the territory of rock lyrics. And no band did more than the Velvet Underground to open rock music to the avant-garde - to experimental theater, art, literature and film, to William Burroughs and Kurt Weill, to John Cage and Andy Warhol, Reed's early patron.

Indie rock es sentially beganin the 1960s with Reed and the Velvets; the punk, New Wave and alternative rock movements of the 1970s, '80s and '90s were all indebted to Reed, whose songs were covered by R.E.M., Nirvana, Patti Smith and countless others.

"The first Velvet Underground record sold 30,000 copies in the first five years," Brian Eno, who produced albums by Roxy Music and Talking Heads among others, once said. "I think everyone who bought one of those 30,000 copies started a band!"

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Reed's trademarks were a monotone of surprising emotional range and power; slashing, grinding guitar; and lyrics that were complex, yet conversational, designed to make you feel as if Reed were seated next to you.

Known for his cold stare and gaunt features, he was a cynic and a seeker who seemed to embody downtown Manhattan culture of the 1960s and '70s and was as essential a New York artist as Martin Scorsese or Woody Allen. Reed's New York was a jaded city of drag queens, drug addic ts and violence, but it was also as wondrous as any Allen comedy, with so many of Reed's songs explorations of right and wrong and quests for transcendence.

He had one top 20 hit, "Walk On the Wild Side," and many other songs that became standards among his admirers, from "Heroin" and "Sweet Jane" to "Pale Blue Eyes" and "All Tomorrow's Parties." Raised on doo-wop and Carl Perkins, Delmore Schwartz and the Beats, Reed helped shape the punk ethos of raw power, the alternative rock ethos of irony and droning music and the art-rock embrace of experimentation, whether the dual readings of Beat-influenced verse for "Murder Mystery," or, like a passage out of Burroughs' "Naked Lunch," the orgy of guns, drugs and oral sex on the Velvets' 15-minute "Sister Ray."

An outlaw in his early years, Reed would eventually perform at the White House, have his writing published in The New Yorker, be featured by the Public Broadcasting Service in an "American Masters" documentary and win a Grammy in 1999 for Best Long Form Music Video. The Velvet Underground was inducted into the Rock and Roll of Fame in 1996 and their landmark debut album, "The Velvet Underground & Nico," was added to the Library of Congress' registry in 2006.

Reed called one song "Growing Up in Public" and his career was an ongoing exhibit of how any subject could be set to rock music - the death of a parent ("Standing On Ceremony), AIDS ("The Halloween Parade"), some favorite movies and plays ("Doin' the Things That We Want To"), racism ("I Want to be Black"), the electroshock therapy he received as a teen ("Kill Your Sons").

Reviewing Reed's 1989 topical album "New York," Village Voice critic Robert Christgau wrote that "the pleasure of the lyrics is mostly tone and delivery - plus the impulse they validate, their affirmation that you can write songs about this stuff. Protesting, elegizing, carping, waxing sarcastic, forcing jokes, stating facts, garbling what he just read in the Times, free-associating to doomsday, Lou carries on a New York conversation - all that's missing is a disquisition on real estate."

He was one of rock's archetypal tough guys, but he grew up middle class - an accountant's son raised on Long Island, east of New York City. Reed was born to be a suburban dropout. He hated school, loved rock 'n' roll, fought with his parents and attacked them in song for forcing him to undergo electroshock therapy as a supposed "cure" for being bisexual. "Families that live out in the suburbs often make each other cry," he later wrote.

His real break began in college. At Syracuse University, he studied under Schwartz, whom Reed would call the first "great man" he ever encountered. He credited Schwartz with making him want to become a writer and to express himself in the most concrete language possible. Reed honored his mentor in the song "My House," recounting how he connected with the spirit of the late, mad poet through a Ouija board. "Blazing stood the proud and regal name Delmore," he sang.

Reed moved to New York City after college and traveled in the pop and art worlds, working as a house songwriter at the low-budget Pickwick Records and putting in late hours in downtown clubs. One of his Pickwick songs, the dance parody "The Ostrich," was considered commercial enough to record. Fellow studio musicians included a Welsh-born viola player, John Cale, with whom Reed soon performed in such makeshift groups as the Warlocks and the Primitives.

They were joined by a friend of Reed's from Syracuse, guitarist-bassist Sterling Morrison; and by an acquaintance of Morrison's, drummer Maureen Tucker, who tapped out simple, hypnotic rhythms while playing standing up. They renamed themselves the Velvet Underground after a Michael Leigh book about the sexual subculture. By the mid-1960s, they were rehearsing at Warhol's "Factory," a meeting ground of art, music, orgies, drug parties and scre en tests for films that ended up being projected onto the band while it performed, part of what Warhol called the "Floating Plastic Inevitable."

"Warhol was the great catalyst," Reed told BOMB magazine in 1998. "It all revolved around him. It all happened very much because of him. He was like a swirl, and these things would come into being: Lo and behold multimedia. There it was. No one really thought about it, it was just fun."

Before the Velvets, references to drugs and sex were often brief and indirect, if only to ensure a chance at radio and television play. In 1967, the year of the Velvets' first album, the Rolling Stones were pressured to sing the title of their latest single as "Let's Spend Some Time Together" instead of "Let's Spend the Night Together" when they were performing on TV on "The Ed Sullivan Show." The Doors fought with Sullivan over the word "higher" from "Light My Fire."

The Velvets said everything other bands were forbidden to say and some things other bands never imagined. Reed wrote some of rock's most explicit lyrics about drugs ("Heroin," ''Waiting for My Man"), sadomasochism ("Venus in Furs") and prostitution ("There She Goes Again"). His love songs were less stories of boy-meets-girl, than ambiguous studies of the heart, like the philosophical games of "Some Kinda Love" or the weary ballad "Pale Blue Eyes," an elegy for an old girlfriend and a confession to a post-breakup fling:


It was good what we did yesterday

And I'd do it once again

The fact that you are married

Only proves you're my best friend

But it's truly, truly a sin


Away from the Factory, the Velvets were too ahead of their time, getting tossed out of clubs or having audience members walk out. The mainstream press, still seeking a handle on the Beatles and the Stones, was thrown entirely by the Velvet Underground. The New York Times at first couldn't find the words, calling the Velvet s "Warhol's jazz band" in a January 1966 story and "a combination of rock 'n' roll and Egyptian belly-dance music" just days later. The Velvets' appearance in a Warhol film, "More Milk, Yvette," only added to the dismay of Times critic Bosley Crowther.

"Also on the bill is a performance by a group of rock 'n' roll singers called the Velvet Underground," Crowther wrote. "They bang away at their electronic equipment, while random movies are thrown on the screen in back of them. When will somebody ennoble Mr. Warhol with an above-ground movie called 'For Crying Out Loud'?"

At Warhol's suggestion, they performed and recorded with the sultry, German-born Nico, a "chanteuse" who sang lead on a handful of songs from their debut album. A storm cloud over 1967's Summer of Love, "The Velvet Underground & Nico" featured a now-iconic Warhol drawing of a (peelable) banana on the cover and proved an uncanny musical extension of Warhol's blank-faced aura. The Velvets juxtap osed childlike melodies with dry, affectless vocals on "Sunday Morning" and "Femme Fatale." On "Heroin," Cale's viola screeched and jumped behind Reed's obliterating junkie's journey, with his sacred vow, "Herrrrrr-o-in, it's my wife, and it's my life," and his cry into the void, "And I guess that I just don't know."

"'Heroin' is the Velvets' masterpiece - seven minutes of excruciating spiritual extremity," wrote critic Ellen Willis. "No other work of art I know about has made the junkie's experience so horrible, so powerful, so appealing; listening to 'Heroin' I feel simultaneously impelled to somehow save this man and to reach for the needle."

Reed made just three more albums with the Velvet Underground before leaving in 1970. Cale was pushed out by Reed in 1968 (they had a long history of animosity) and was replaced by Doug Yule. Their sound turned more accessible, and the final album with Reed, "Loaded," included two upbeat musical anthems, "Rock and Roll" an d "Sweet Jane," in which Reed seemed to warn Velvets fans - and himself - that "there's even some evil mothers/Well they're gonna tell you that everything is just dirt."

He lived many lives in the '70s, initially moving back home and working at his father's office, then competing with Keith Richards as the rock star most likely to die. He binged on drugs and alcohol, gained weight, lost even more and was described by critic Lester Bangs as "so transcendently emaciated he had indeed become insectival." Reed simulated shooting heroin during concerts, cursed out journalists and once slugged David Bowie when Bowie suggested he clean up his life.

"Lou Reed is the guy that gave dignity and poetry and rock 'n' roll to smack, speed, homosexuality, sadomasochism, murder, misogyny, stumblebum passivity, and suicide," wrote Bangs, a dedicated fan and fearless detractor, "and then proceeded to belie all his achievements and return to the mire by turning the whole thing into a monumental bad joke with himself as the woozily insistent Henny Youngman in the center ring, mumbling punch lines that kept losing their punch."

His albums in the '70s were alternately praised as daring experiments or mocked as embarrassing failures, whether the ambitious song suite "Berlin" or the wholly experimental "Metal Machine Music," an hour of electronic feedback. But in the 1980s, he kicked drugs and released a series of acclaimed albums, including "The Blue Mask," ''Legendary Hearts" and "New Sensations."

He played some reunion shows with the Velvet Underground and in 1990 teamed with Cale for "Drella," a spare tribute to Warhol. He continued to receive strong reviews in the 1990s and after for such albums as "Set the Twilight Reeling" and "Ecstasy" and he continued to test new ground, whether a 2002 concept album about Edgar Allan Poe, "The Raven," or a 2011 collaboration with Metallica, "Lulu."

Reed fancied dictionary language like "capricious" and "harridan," but he found special magic in the word "bells," sounding from above, "up in the sky," as he sang on the Velvets' "What Goes On." A personal favorite was the title track from a 1979 album, "The Bells." Over a foggy swirl of synthesizers and horns, suggesting a haunted house on skid row, Reed improvised a fairy tale about a stage actor who leaves work late at night and takes in a chiming, urban "Milky Way."


It was really not so cute

to play without a parachute

As he stood upon the ledge

Looking out, he thought he saw a brook

And he hollered, 'Look, there are the bells!'

And he sang out, 'Here come the bells!

Here come the bells! Here come the bells!

Here come the bells!'

AP National Writer

Copyright © 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.
Published in New York Times on Oct. 27, 2013.
Memories & Condolences
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50 entries
November 8, 2019
Lou, I can not begin to say what your music with The Velvet Underground and Solo work has meant to me! However, with words, I will attempt to do just that. In general, your music has taught me that each and everybody has worth. We are all human beings that should be loved and accepted as we are. Thank you for all of the music you have contributed to the world. You may be gone but will NEVER be forgotten!
October 27, 2018
Godspeed Lou, and thank you for sharing a part of your life with us.
Harry Simpson
November 11, 2016
Valenda Newell
January 10, 2015
Just listened to recently released live recording from LA '76, I'm remiss that it took so long to write his, Lou Reed was a great man. I often felt he was singing just to me. Saw him countless times. At the Capital theatre in Passaic NJ, playing backup guitar to Arlene Smith & the Chantels "Maybe Baby" was just heart stopping. Another time, at the Capital, I called out for "Legendary Hearts" didn't think he heard, but he played it! "The glory of love might see" us through....My belated condolences to Laurie Anderson,
March 30, 2014
November 18, 2013
An enormous influence on me and my perception of music, literature, and poetry. Lou changed everything I thought about those art media and he'll remain a sort of musical hero for me always. Being a child of the 21st century, his music's an important primary source for life and death in the 1960's - 1980's New York. His music also reminds me how superficial a lot of mainstream music from then to now remains. RIP Lou Reed - As you said/sang: "There's a bit of magic in everything, and some loss to even things out."
Ashley Stringer
November 16, 2013
Lou although I only got to see one of your concerts, it was one of
the best shows I have ever seen. The show was in Chicago and you took the time to come out and meet the fans' afterwards. I feel so blessed to of been able to meet you. You were cool beyond words. May you rest in peace Lou, you will be missed.
Mary Piche'
November 13, 2013
lou, one of the main reasons I moved to nyc some 30 years ago.had the privilege to meet you and see you at work.forever linked in spirit. deepest love to you and laurie.
marc mira
November 11, 2013
Please accept my condolences on the passing of Lou Reed. I had the pleasure of seeing him 3 times over the years; he was a great performer, and produced a lot of good work over the years. His place in history is secure.
Mike Baffuto
November 6, 2013
For mr Lou Reed and for his wife Laurie. Love
November 5, 2013
Thanks for the music of a lifetime....
Boots... Pensacola,fl
November 5, 2013
My sincere condolences to his wife, family and friends and to his fans.
Marc Philippens
November 5, 2013
Oh Lou, I'll miss you. You left us knowing you left too early when you still had so much to say. Peace be with you. And to you Laurie, he couldn't have found a better mate. Peace be with you too.
Catherine Pate
November 5, 2013
My deepest sorrow and tears to the family of the deceased. May these words bring you hope and consolation: "...Hear the promise God has made: He will call; the dead will answer. They shall live at his command. For he has a longing for the work of his own hand..."
See John 14: 13-15, John 6: 40; 11: 11, 43; Jas. 4: 14
November 5, 2013
November 4, 2013
God bless you Lou! Thanks for the songs that made my teenage years bearable. Little did I know they would still be in my heart forty years later and forevermore.
Laurie Caldwell Biswell Spoerle
November 4, 2013
May God Remember Lou personally. Malachi3:16
November 4, 2013
Oy Vie my dear Loo-La Reed why you go so soon. Love always, Yiska Miznavitz
November 3, 2013
Its been one week. I miss you. You will always be in my heart. <3
Jackie cullwell
November 2, 2013
I will always love you.
patty como
November 2, 2013
You were my reason for being a fan .we loved you
I will keep you in my heart forever.i loved you.
patty como
November 2, 2013
Thanks for helping us make our parents crazy! Thanks for everything !! RIP Lou.
Danny M..
November 2, 2013
Now you are on the Wild Side ..God bless - fan from Boston
November 1, 2013
Thank you for your service to music and art. You've inspired many. You carved your own path.
Thanks for being such a cool guy with us.
Jonathan Sims
November 1, 2013
Lou Reed was a great American Treasure. He will be missed.
Peace and Love.
November 1, 2013
RIP fellow FHS grad. Your music was an inspiration.

Commerce, MI.
November 1, 2013
Rest in peace Mr. Reed
See you on the other side (John 5:28)
Victoria P
October 31, 2013
Leslie Adkins
October 31, 2013
May you rest in peace!!!!! My prayers go out too your family and friends!!!!! Rock the heavens!!!!!!!
K Engel
October 31, 2013
May the peace of God be with the family in their time of great sorrow.
M. J.
October 31, 2013
so sorry for loss love your
music take comfort in Roms8;38-39
t j
October 31, 2013
You inspired many. I was so very blessed to have seen you perform in April of 1989. You were in a leg cast sitting on a stool the entire show. That showed me you were truly a dedicated rocker. So long for now. None of those three word condolences, that wasn't you and I get it. May peace be with Laurie.
Jacqueline Spaunhorst
October 31, 2013
Your memories will find and stay with many to come;,as your tours in heaven will remain. Rock on!!!
Fran M
October 31, 2013
Celebrating a life well lived. We will cherish the memories forever.
b davis
October 31, 2013
Sweet Lou .Thanks RIP
Butch Harris
October 31, 2013
A true legend
Devorah Williams
October 31, 2013
As the days and weeks pass, and as you return to life's routine, may you continue to feel comforted by the love and support of family and friends.
G. Freeman
October 31, 2013
My thoughts and prayers for the Reed family.
October 31, 2013
Please accept my condolences for the loss of your loved one. May the God of all comfort help you through these hard times (2 Tim. 1:3,4).
October 31, 2013
May the God of comfort bless you and your family during this time of sorrow.
CP (2 Corintthians 1:3,4)
October 31, 2013
Lou is peacefully resting. My condolences to his family and friends. Ecclesiastes 9:5
October 31, 2013
Rest in peace Lou. Your legacy remains my sympathy to your nearest and dearest your music plays on
Neill Wilson
October 30, 2013
Rest Peacefully-
S. Dalton, Co.
October 30, 2013
So sad to see a genius pass. Romans 15:33.
October 30, 2013
A musical genius....."THANKS" for the memories. Peace
October 30, 2013
god bless you lou,you broke the mold in music terms.
May you family know god has him , and he is riding on the"Satellite of Love", up in the heavens
October 30, 2013
RIP Lou!!! you will be sadly missed
Kat Hawk
October 30, 2013
I am sorry for your loss. I hope you can find comfort in the words written at (Jeremiah 29:11,12)
October 30, 2013
He brought the street world out in song. If you listened you learned. There will never be another Lou Reed.
RIP my brother.
Ken Morris
October 30, 2013
Dear family and friends, I am very sorry to hear of your loss. May you be consoled in prayer to the God of all comfort, and please remember, he knows every time we cry (psalms 56:8), and he desires to comfort and strengthen you through these difficult times.
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