Lewis Allan "Lou" Reed (March 2, 1942 – October 27, 2013) was an American musician, singer and songwriter. After serving as guitarist, vocalist, and principal songwriter of the Velvet Underground, his solo career spanned several decades. The Velvet Underground was a commercial failure in the late 1960s, but the group has gained a considerable cult following in the years since its demise and has gone on to become one of the most widely cited and influential bands of the era – hence Brian Eno's famous quote that while the Velvet Underground's debut album only sold 30,000 copies, "everyone who bought one of those 30,000 copies started a band."
After his departure from the group, Reed began a solo career in 1972. He had a hit the following year with "Walk on the Wild Side", but subsequently lacked the mainstream commercial success its chart status seemed to indicate. Reed was known for his distinctive deadpan voice, poetic lyrics and for pioneering and coining the term ostrich guitar tuning.
Reed was born at Beth El Hospital (now Brookdale) in Brooklyn and grew up in Freeport, Long Island. Contrary to some sources, his birth name was Lewis Allan Reed, not Louis Firbanks, a name that was coined as a joke by Lester Bangs in Creem magazine. Reed was the son of Toby (née Futterman) and Sidney Joseph Reed, an accountant. His family was Jewish, and although he said that he was Jewish, he added, "My God is rock'n'roll. It’s an obscure power that can change your life. The most important part of my religion is to play guitar."
Reed as a high school senior, 1959
Having learned to play the guitar from the radio, he developed an early interest in rock and roll and rhythm and blues, and during high school played in several bands. His first recording was as a member of a doo wop-style group called the Jades. In 1956, Reed, who was bisexual and still a teenager, received electroconvulsive therapy, which was intended to cure his bisexuality; he wrote about the experience in his 1974 song, "Kill Your Sons". In an interview, Reed said of the experience:
"They put the thing down your throat so you don't swallow your tongue, and they put electrodes on your head. That's what was recommended in Rockland State Hospital to discourage homosexual feelings. The effect is that you lose your memory and become a vegetable. You can't read a book because you get to page 17 and have to go right back to page one again."
—Lou Reed quoted in Please Kill Me (1996)
Reed began attending Syracuse University in 1960, studying journalism, film directing, and creative writing. He was a platoon leader in ROTC and later expelled from the program for holding an unloaded gun to his superior's head. In 1961 he began hosting a late-night radio program on WAER called "Excursions On A Wobbly Rail". Named after a song by pianist Cecil Taylor, the program typically featured doo wop, rhythm and blues and jazz, particularly the free jazz developed in the mid-1950s. Many of Reed's guitar techniques, such as the guitar-drum roll, were inspired by jazz saxophonists, such as Ornette Coleman. Reed graduated with honors from Syracuse University's College of Arts and Sciences with a B.A. in June 1964.
While enrolled at Syracuse University, he studied under poet Delmore Schwartz, who he said was "the first great person I ever met", and they would become friends. He credited Schwartz with showing him how "with the simplest language imaginable, and very short, you can accomplish the most astonishing heights. Reed dedicated the song "European Son", from the Velvet Underground's debut album, to Schwartz. In 1982, Reed also recorded "My House" as a tribute to his late mentor. He later said that his goals as a writer were "to bring the sensitivities of the novel to rock music" or to write the Great American Novel in a record album.
The Velvet Underground
Reed and Cale lived together on the Lower East Side, and after inviting Reed's college acquaintances guitarist Sterling Morrison and drummer Maureen Tucker to join the group, they formed the Velvet Underground. Though internally unstable (Cale left in 1968, Reed in 1970), and without commercial success, the band has a long-standing reputation as one of the most influential in rock history.
After quitting the Velvet Underground in August 1970, Reed took a job at his father's tax accounting firm as a typist, by his own account earning $40 a week. In 1971, he signed a recording contract with RCA Records and recorded his first solo album in London with top session musicians including Steve Howe and Rick Wakeman, members of the progressive rock group Yes. The album, Lou Reed, contained smoothly produced, re-recorded versions of unreleased Velvet Underground songs, some of which were originally recorded by the Velvets for Loaded but shelved (see the Peel Slowly and See box set). This first solo album was overlooked by most pop music critics and it did not sell well, although music critic Stephen Holden, in Rolling Stone, called it an "almost perfect album. . . . which embodied the spirit of the Velvets. Holden describes Reed's unique qualities, in both his voice and lyrics, in the album.
Reed's voice hasn't changed much since the early days. Outrageously unmusical, it combines the sass of Jagger and the mockery of early Dylan, but is lower-pitched than either. It is a voice so incapable of bullshit that it makes even an artsy arrangement work by turning the whole thing into a joyous travesty. Just as arresting as Reed's voice are his lyrics, which combine a New York street punk sensibility and rock song cliches with a powerful poetic gift.
n December 1972, Reed released Transformer. David Bowie and Mick Ronson co-produced the album and introduced Reed to a wider popular audience (specifically in the UK). The hit single "Walk on the Wild Side" was an ironic yet affectionate salute to the misfits, hustlers, and transvestites who once surrounded Andy Warhol. When he was first introduced to Reed's music, Bowie stated, "I had never heard anything quite like it. It was a revelation to me.
1980, Reed married British designer Sylvia Morales. They were divorced more than a decade later. While together, Morales inspired Reed to write several songs, particularly "Think It Over" from 1980's Growing Up in Public and "Heavenly Arms" from 1982's The Blue Mask with bassist Fernando Saunders. After Legendary Hearts (1983) and New Sensations (1984) fared adequately on the charts, Reed was sufficiently reestablished as a public figure to become spokesman for Honda motorcycles.
In the early 1980s, Reed worked with a number of innovative guitarists including Chuck Hammer and Robert Quine. Hammer appeared on Growing Up in Public (1980) and Quine appeared on The Blue Mask (1982) and Legendary Hearts (1983). It was through working with both of these guitarists that Reed regained his sense of sonic experimentation.
On September 22, 1985, Reed performed at the first Farm Aid concert in Champaign, Illinois. He performed "Doin' The Things That We Want To", "I Love You, Suzanne", "New Sensations" and "Walk on The Wild Side" as his solo set, later playing bass for Roy Orbison during his set. In June 1986, Reed released Mistrial (co-produced with Fernando Saunders), a more commercial album than previous records. To support the release, he released two music videos: "No Money Down" and "The Original Wrapper".
At the same time of Mistrial's release, he joined Amnesty International's A Conspiracy of Hope Tour and was outspoken about New York's political issues and personalities. He would later use this experience on the 1989 album New York, commenting on crime, AIDS, Jesse Jackson, Kurt Waldheim, and Pope John Paul II.
Following Warhol's death after routine surgery in 1987, Reed again collaborated with John Cale on the biographical Songs for Drella, Warhol's nickname. The album marked an end to a 22-year estrangement from Cale. On the album, Reed sings of his love for his late friend, and criticizes both the doctors who were unable to save Warhol's life and Warhol's would-be assassin, Valerie Solanas.
In 1990, following a twenty-year hiatus, the Velvet Underground reformed for a Fondation Cartier benefit in France. Reed released his sixteenth solo record, Magic and Loss, in 1992, an album about mortality, inspired by the death of two close friends from cancer. In 1993, the Velvet Underground again reunited and toured throughout Europe, although plans for a North American tour were cancelled following another falling out between Reed and Cale. In 1994, Reed appeared in A Celebration: The Music of Pete Townshend and The Who, also known as Daltrey Sings Townshend. This was a two-night concert at Carnegie Hall produced by Roger Daltrey in celebration of his fiftieth birthday. In 1994, a CD and a VHS video were issued, and in 1998 a DVD was released. Reed performed a radically rearranged version of "Now And Then" from Psychoderelict.
In 1996, the Velvet Underground were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. At the induction ceremony, Reed performed a song entitled "Last Night I Said Goodbye to My Friend" alongside former bandmates John Cale and Maureen Tucker, in dedication to Velvet Underground guitarist Sterling Morrison, who had died the previous August. Reed has since been nominated for the Rock Hall as a solo artist twice, in 2000 and 2001, but has not been inducted.
2000 to 2003
In May 2000, Reed performed before Pope John Paul II at the Great Jubilee Concert in Rome. In 2000, a new collaboration with Robert Wilson called "POEtry" was staged at the Thalia Theater in Germany. As with the previous collaboration "Time Rocker," "POEtry" was also inspired by the works of a 19th-century writer: Edgar Allan Poe. Reed became interested in Poe after producer Hal Willner suggested he read some of Poe's text at a Halloween benefit he was curating at St. Ann's Episcopal Church in Brooklyn. For this new collaboration, Reed reworked and rewrote some of Poe's text and included some new songs based on the theme explored in the texts. In 2001, Reed made a cameo appearance in the movie adaptation of Prozac Nation. On October 6, 2001, the New York Times published a Reed poem called Laurie Sadly Listening in which he reflects upon the September 11 attacks.
Incorrect reports of Reed's death were broadcast by numerous U.S. radio stations in 2001, caused by a hoax email (purporting to be from Reuters) which said he had died of a drug overdose. In 2003, he released a 2-CD set, The Raven, based on "Poe-Try." Besides Reed and his band, the album featured actors and musicians including singers David Bowie, Laurie Anderson, Kate and Anna McGarrigle, The Blind Boys of Alabama and Antony Hegarty, saxophonist Ornette Coleman, and actors Elizabeth Ashley, Christopher Walken, Steve Buscemi, Willem Dafoe, Amanda Plummer, Fisher Stevens and Kate Valk. The album consisted of songs written by Reed and spoken-word performances of reworked and rewritten texts of Edgar Allan Poe by the actors, set to electronic music composed by Reed. At the same time a single disc CD version of the albums, focusing on the music, was also released.
Reed remained active doing benefits and composing music. He contributed vocals on the third Gorillaz album, Plastic Beach, on the song "Some Kind Of Nature" and co-wrote and performed backup music for a Chen Style T'ai Chi instructional DVD. He had a co-production credit on Laurie Anderson's Homeland.
Reed performed a cover of the Buddy Holly song "Peggy Sue" which is featured on the tribute album Rave On Buddy Holly.
In 2010, French/American underground electronic recording artist Uffie used an instrumental sample of the Velvet Underground track "Rock & Roll" for her debut album's title track "Sex Dreams and Denim Jeans". Before the release of the album there was a conflict between Uffie and Reed as to who would be credited as the writer of the track. Reed would only allow her to use the sample if she called "Sex Dreams and Denim Jeans" an adaptation of "Rock & Roll" and he received sole credit as songwriter for the track. This dispute delayed the album by six months and Uffie labeled Reed as "fucking difficult".
Reed began touring with the Metal Machine Trio, which was widely viewed as a return to his exploration of noise and sound. In 2011, heavy metal band Metallica recorded a full-length collaboration with Reed entitled Lulu, released on November 1 in North America and October 31 everywhere else.
In January 2012, Reed and John Cale sued the Andy Warhol Foundation for the license to use the yellow banana image from Warhol's art for The Velvet Underground & Nico album.
Reed contributed vocals to the track "The Wanderlust" on Metric's 2012 album Synthetica.
In 2012, a bilingual (French and English) book Lou Reed: Rimes/Rhymes was published with a compilation of more than 300 photos of Reed, with comments from co-author Bernard Comment.
In May 2013, Reed underwent a liver transplant in Cleveland. Afterwards he claimed on his website to be "bigger and stronger" than ever, but on October 27, 2013, he died from liver disease at his home in Southampton, New York, at the age of 71.
David Byrne, Laurie Anderson, Patti Smith, David Bowie, Morrissey, Iggy Pop, Miley Cyrus, Samuel L. Jackson, Lenny Kravitz, Ricky Gervais, Ryan Adams, Elijah Wood, and many others paid tribute to Reed. Pearl Jam dedicated their song "Man of the Hour" to Reed at their show in Baltimore and then played "I'm Waiting for the Man". On the day of his death, the Killers dedicated their rendition of "Pale Blue Eyes" to Reed at the Life Is Beautiful festival in Las Vegas. Phish opened their show in Hartford with "Rock & Roll", after which Trey Anastasio asked the audience for a moment of silence for "one of the greatest artists who've ever lived".
Former Velvet Underground members Mo Tucker and John Cale made statements on Reed's death, and others from outside the music industry also paid their respects, including Cardinal Gianfranco Ravasi and Salman Rushdie.
In November 2013, it was reported that a biography is being written by Rolling Stone critic Anthony DeCurtis.
Reed performing at the Hop Farm Music Festival (2011)
|Birth name||Lewis Allan Reed|
|Born||March 2, 1942|
Brooklyn, New York City, United States
|Died||October 27, 2013 (aged 71)|
Southampton, New York, United States
|Genres||Rock, experimental rock, art rock,protopunk, glam rock, avant-garde|
|Occupations||Musician, singer-songwriter, producer, photographer|
|Labels||Matador, MGM, RCA, Arista, Sire,Reprise, Warner Bros., Pickwick|
|Associated acts||The Velvet Underground, John Cale,Nico, David Bowie, Metal Machine Trio, Mick Ronson, Laurie Anderson,Metallica|