The Herald Bulletin

Afternoon Update

Nation & World

October 27, 2013

Lou Reed, iconic punk poet, dead at 71

NEW YORK — Lou Reed was a pioneer for countless bands who didn't worry about their next hit single.

Reed, who died Sunday at age 71, radically challenged rock's founding promise of good times and public celebration. As leader of the Velvet Underground and as a solo artist, he was the father of indie rock, and an ancestor of punk, New Wave and the alternative rock movements of the 1970s, '80s and beyond. He influenced generations of musicians from David Bowie and R.E.M. to Talking Heads and Sonic Youth.

"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!"

Reed and the Velvet Underground opened rock music to the avant-garde — to experimental theater, art, literature and film, from William Burroughs to Kurt Weill to Andy Warhol, Reed's early patron. 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 Velvet Underground's 15-minute "Sister Ray."

Reed died in Southampton, N.Y., 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. Tributes to Reed came Sunday from such friends and admirers as Salman Rushdie and former Velvet Underground bandmate John Cale, who mourned his "school-yard buddy."

His 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 addicts 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." 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 PBS 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. 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 Cale, a Welsh-born viola player, 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 screen 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 "The Ed Sullivan Show." The Doors fought with Sullivan over the word "higher" from "Light My Fire."

1
Text Only
Nation & World
  • Student struggles to recount fatal truck-bus crash

    Most of the 911 calls from witnesses to last week's fiery truck-bus collision that killed 10 were matter of fact. Then there was the one from a passenger: With shrieks in the background, the student struggled to recount how a truck came roaring toward them.

    April 18, 2014

  • Magnitude-7.5 earthquake shakes Mexican capital

     A powerful, magnitude-7.5 earthquake shook central and southern Mexico on Friday. The U.S. Geological Survey said it was centered northwest of the Pacific resort of Acapulco, where many Mexicans are vacationing for the Easter holiday.

    April 18, 2014

  • Avalanche sweeps down Everest, killing at least 12

    An avalanche swept down a climbing route on Mount Everest early Friday, killing at least 12 Nepalese guides and leaving three missing in the deadliest disaster on the world's highest peak.

    April 18, 2014

  • news_horselesscarriage.jpg Proposed car to replace NYC horse carriages shown

    An electric car that proponents hope will replace horse-drawn carriages in New York City was presented Thursday at the New York International Auto Show, as critics expressed their distaste for the idea.

    April 18, 2014 1 Photo

  • news_homesickforprison.jpg Man said to be homesick for prison gets 3½ years

    An ex-con who spent most of his adult life behind bars on Thursday got what he said he wanted for robbing a suburban Chicago bank. The 74-year-old gets to go back to the place he called home — prison.

    April 17, 2014 1 Photo

  • Gay Marriage Utah [Duplicate] Judge asks pointed questions in gay marriage case

    A judge in Colorado who will play a pivotal role deciding whether gays should be allowed to wed in the United States asked pointed questions Thursday about whether Oklahoma can legally ban the unions.

    April 17, 2014 1 Photo

  • news_obamalocalschools.jpg Obama: 8 million signed up for health care

    Eight million people have signed up for health care through new insurance exchanges and the proportion of younger applicants has increased, President Barack Obama said Thursday.

    April 17, 2014 1 Photo

  • 0107 Super WAL-MART 1 Wal-Mart jumps into the money transfer biz, loudly

    The world's largest retailer introduced a new money transfer service Thursday that it says will cut fees for its low-income customers by up to 50 percent compared with similar services elsewhere.

    April 17, 2014 1 Photo

  • news_ukraineprotests.jpg Deal reached on calming Ukraine tensions

    Top diplomats from the United States, European Union, Russia and Ukraine reached agreement after marathon talks Thursday on immediate steps to ease the crisis in Ukraine.

    April 17, 2014 1 Photo

  • news_target.jpg Cyber cops: Target hackers may take years to find

    Secret Service investigators say they are close to gaining a full understanding of the methods hackers used to breach Target's computer systems last December.

    April 17, 2014 1 Photo

More Resources from The Herald Bulletin
AP Video
Parade
Magazine

Click HERE to read all your Parade favorites including Hollywood Wire, Celebrity interviews and photo galleries, Food recipes and cooking tips, Games and lots more.
Hyperlocal Search
Premier Guide
Find a business

Walking Fingers
Maps, Menus, Store hours, Coupons, and more...
Premier Guide
Helium debate
Helium