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  • R.I.P. Lou Reed
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Lou Reed

We’ve lost Lou Reed. Rolling Stone reports that the legendary contrarian genius has died at age 71. Reed underwent a liver transplant earlier this year, which could’ve had something to do with his death, but no cause has yet been revealed. But even if we don’t know exactly how Reed died yet, we know how he lived. He lived a hell of a life, and without him, much of the music you read about on sites like this one would not exist.

Reed’s early life is the stuff of legend. Born in a Brooklyn hospital in 1942, Lewis Allan Reed grew up on Long Island and sang with a doo-wop group there. As a teenager, he had to go through electroshock therapy to “correct” homosexual impulses. As a student at Syracuse University, he hosted a late-night free-jazz college radio show. And after college, he led a band called the Primitives, who were formed to record “The Ostrich,” a goofy garage-rock song Reed had written. That’s how he met John Cale, his future Velvet Underground co-leader.

Reed and Cale formed the Velvet Underground, one of the most important bands in the history of American popular music. With Reed, the band recorded four albums, and at least three of them were game-changing classics. (You could make the case for Loaded, the last one he recorded with them, too.) The Velvet Underground did things that rock bands hadn’t previously done. They adapted a hypnotic, circular guitar style, a rock take on the staring-into-infinity minimalism of composers like La Monte Young. They sang about drugs in ways that made the pursuit of drugs sound squalid and hopeless and soul-crushing rather than fun or cool. Reed sang from a wizened, seen-it-all perspective that made his broken-junkie poetry sound eternal, like something carved into stone. Around the time the Velvets released their beyond-classic first album The Velvet Underground & Nico in 1967, other bands, like the Stooges, were pushing the outward limits of ugliness in rock music, but nobody was doing it with the chilly authority of the Velvet Underground. And between that first album, 1968′s White Light/White Heat, and 1970′s self-titled album, they also pushed their style in too many directions to count, trying out stripped-down gospel-folk and jittery proto-punk and brain-jangling sound-collage. But despite the patronage of art-world giant Andy Warhol, they never became anything more than a cult band in their time together. That cult would grow, considerably, in the years after Reed left.

Reed quit the band in 1970, one album after Cale had done the same. After a little while, he kicked off a long and wide-ranging solo career. Along with Iggy Pop and David Bowie, he formed a loose triumvirate of wriggling, all-over-the-place drug-addled adventurous rock stardom. He helped glam rock come into being with his second solo album, 1972′s Transformer, and he also scored a gigantic fluke hit with that album’s “Walk On The Wild Side.” He also helped noise-rock come into being with Metal Machine Music, a 1975 double album of squealing feedback loops that, depending on who you ask, is either a work of provocative genius or an unlistenable shitpile. And in the ensuing decades, his career continued to move in unpredictable patterns, swinging from the genius (1978′s 11-minute transgressive tock symphony “Street Hassle”) to the quietly impressive (1992′s Magic And Loss) to the messily awful (2003′s Poe-inspired concept album The Raven).

In recent years, he, along with wife Laurie Anderson, moved into a life as a New York art-scene man about town. He toured or played festivals when the mood struck him, but he didn’t make a habit of either one. He took on weird projects and showed up at openings and generally seemed to be enjoying his life. If you spent any amount of time wandering around lower Manhattan in the past 15 years or so, there’s a good chance that you spotted Reed on the street, got very nervous and excited at the same time, and said nothing.

In a way, it’s appropriate that the final album that Reed released during his lifetime was 2011′s Lulu, the collaboration with Metallica that sites like this one immediately pegged as one of the worst albums ever. That album sounded like nothing else in history, and nobody else could’ve made it. Lou Reed made that album because he felt like it. His last public act was writing a laudatory review of Yeezus. He never did what anybody wanted him to do, and we were always better off for his presence. He will be missed.

Previously: The 10 Best Lou Reed Songs | The 10 Best Velvet Underground Songs

Comments (58)
  1. The Godfather.

  2. LuLu was a fitting end to an insane career.

  3. Rest in peace, dude.

    My initial reaction was “It sucks that his last release was Lulu,” but skimming through recent tweets, many others had this similar thought.

    Not much else you can say, other than even in his creative missteps, he’s remembered and will be missed greatly.

  4. rest in peace Lou, and take a walk on the wild side.

  5. Name a band you like and it’s likely that they wouldn’t be around without Velvet Underground or Lou Reed.

    R.I.P.

  6. Well, my day’s ruined.

  7. Very very sad to hear this.

  8. My jaw is on the floor. What an insanely massive bummer.

  9. This makes me sad. My Sunday mornings won’t feel the same.

  10. I knew this was coming as I’d read he was in poor health, but nevertheless this is so, so sad… it’s just strange to think, he was truly a pioneer in a way I’m not even sure is possible today.

    Even if musically he was fading in relevance if you read any of the essays he’d written (relatively) recently he was still making incredible insights about our culture…

    Rest in peace.

  11. Awful news. I’m definitely going to throw on Transformer at the roller rink today, skaters be damned.

  12. Probably shoulda been dead 20 years ago with all the craziness he’s been a part of. Had a good run, I’d say.

    • apparently people keep downvoting this because they’re unaware that many people who have done as many drugs as Lou Reed did not live to the ripe old age of 71. Obnoxious downvoters.

  13. Fuuuuuuuuck

  14. Playing “Like A Possum” right now, one of his last great guitar noisefuck freakouts. “The Raven” notwithstanding.

    RIP Great Man. We’ll never be able to thank you enough!

  15. Well this is not how I wanted to finish off my weekend.

  16. To commemorate Lou, I will spend the rest of my day putting jelly on my shoulder and doing what I fear most. He would have wanted it this way.

  17. This man deserves so much credit for influencing a lot of the artists we enjoy. He was such a interesting and talented soul. Hopefully his music continues to comfort, inspire, and entertain future artists, weirdos, and music lovers of tomorrow.

    I honestly can’t even remember the last time I felt this bad over someone, whom I’ve never met, die.

    R.I.P.

  18. Listening to transformer on vinyl made it through viscious and balled my eues out at perfect day I’m waitingto see reactions especially from cale bowie iggy and jagger hey of he was gonna go it had to be on asunday morning Iidk what I’m gonna do when bowie passes there was just so much I wanted to here from him rip thank you for never fading in and changing the music industry I love you

  19. Very telling of the current state of affairs in terms of distance between pop culture and Stereogum’s world that there’s no mention of this on MTV News site.

  20. Does this mean the critical reappraisal of Lulu can begin?

  21. Satellite’s gone…way up to Mars

  22. Even though he was 71 years old, this was quite a shock. I’ll have to put on some White Light White Heat. RIP

  23. Hidden due to low comment rating. Click here to see

    • Fucking idiot!

      • if you don’t like the song u don’t have to call me an idiot wtf

        thanks for at least giving it a chance though i worked hard on it

        • Hidden due to low comment rating. Click here to see

          • how is it inappropriate? it features MLK. my song is a remembrance thread for MLK. it’s totally appropriate to post here. you must not have listened or you’d know it’s a deep meaningful song. instead of banning me, the mods should write up an article about my song. it needs to be featured on the site. better than 90% of the stuff out there. you could say that it’s my “White Light/White Heat”

          • @rubberjohnny

            how is it inappropriate? I am not even going to honor that silly question with a response.

            Some day you will realize that salivating for remembrance threads and other solemn respectful occasions to get your rocks off is just not worth it, mate. Then you will become a man. By then you will probably have gotten a normal haircut and ceased to put eyeliner on and take glamour selfies of yourself. You will have finally realized the true extent Arcade Fire as sprawlmusik/truevoiceofsuburbschildren.

            Unfortunately by the time that time comes your time here will have already ended and we won’t be there to witness your “rehabilitation”.

          • What you’ve just said is one of the most insanely idiotic things I have ever heard. At no point in your rambling, incoherent response were you even close to anything that could be considered a rational thought. Everyone in this room is now dumber for having listened to it. I award you no points, and may God have mercy on your soul

        • FUCKING IDIOT!!!!!

  24. It’s NOT a perfect day :(

  25. Adding my two cents in the hopes that it will help propel this article to be one of the most commented/viewed and at least one person who hasn’t before will take a chance and be exposed to the simultaneously beautiful and ugly (meant as a compliment) but always thought provoking music of Lou Reed. The Velvet Underground & Nico and White Light/White Heat were essential to the development of my appreciation for music outside of my normal listening habits as I had the backtrack to get to his catalog upon learning his immeasurable influence on many of my favorite musicians/bands. Those two albums are just scratching the surface of his genius but they were enough to expand my mind. I’ll never forget being a dumb ass “musician” attempting to replicate his “Ostrich Tuning” without realizing the tension and limits of certain strings on the guitar. However, I learned my lesson, continued on that path, and I owe my thanks to Lou the Legend.

  26. His discography has a lot left to reveal to us, despite how much we’ve listened to it already. That’s more than anyone can say about most artists.

  27. May his soul rest in peace …… what a terrible Sunday Morning.
    On a lighter note, the article managed to include a Yeezus reference. wow.

  28. Hopefully this prompts a reappraisal of the glorious Lulu: a fittingly brilliant end to a brilliant career.
    RIP Lou

  29. RIP Lou. Say hi to Jeff, Jimi and Kurt for me.

  30. Sad, sad news. I was at the Bridge School Benefit Concert and the news was spreading like wildfire. There was so much anguish from all of the old hippies and rockers at the show. It was clear what sort of impact he has had on people’s lives. My Morning Jacket and Neil Young and the other artists singing “Oh Sweet Nuthin” was crushingly poignant, and I’ll never forget it.

  31. RIP Lou

    nice Yeezus reference Tom.

  32. I made the mistake of reading the comments on the Rolling Stone article. It’s absolutely pathetic how many people refer to Lou as that “irrelevant guy who had that one song”. Just goes to show how dire the musical tastes and knowledge of the masses are.

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