Obituary: Lou Reed
Obituary by Jack Foley
INFLUENTIAL US singer Lou Reed has died at the age of 71.
The singer-songwriter was best best known for hits such as Perfect Day and Walk On The Wild Side as well as being the frontman of Velvet Underground.
The cause of death is unknown although the BBC is reporting that a statement is to be released in due course. He passed away on Sunday, October 27, 2013.
Born on March 2, 1942, at Beth El Hospital (now Brookdale) in Brooklyn, Reed was christened Lewis Allan Reed by his parents Toby (née Futterman) and Sidney Joseph Reed.
He developed a passion for music from an early age and learned to play guitar by listening to the radio, developing an early interest in rock ‘n’ roll and rhythm and blues.
In High School, he joined several bands before recording his first single as a member of a doo wop-style group called The Jades.
Reed began attending Syracuse University in the autumn of 1960, studying journalism, film directing, and creative writing, but maintained a primary passion for music and took up a DJ position on a a late-night radio show on WAER in 1961.
Once he had completed his studies, Reed moved to New York City and began working as an in-house songwriter for Pickwick Records, securing a minor hit single in 1964 with The Ostrich, a parody of popular dance songs of the time.
Indeed, such was its success that his employers assembled a make-shift group around him, known as The Primitives, which included Welsh musician John Cale. The two subsequently lived together on the Lower East Side and, after inviting Reed’s college acquaintances Sterling Morrison (guitarist) and Maureen Tucker (drummer), to join the group, formed the Velvet Underground.
Although the band endured a tumultuous relationship with each other, they are widely credited with being one of the most influential in rock history, with Andy Warhol among their biggest fans (and a collaborator) and Rolling Stone magazine declaring their debut album The Velvet Underground & Nico to be the 13th most influential album of all time (despite only reaching 171 in the charts).
Reed remained with Velvet Underground through several personnel changes until 1970, when he quit to go solo. Initially, he took a job at his father’s tax accounting firm but quickly signed a recording contract with RCA Records in 1971 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.
But it was 1972’s Transformer, which was co-produced by David Bowie and Mick Ronson, that brought him massive success thanks to the success of the single Walk on the Wild Side, which was an affectionate salute to the misfits, hustlers and transvestites who once surrounded Andy Warhol, as well as Perfect Day.
Reed followed Transformer with the darker Berlin, a concept album about two junkies in love in that city, and continued recording albums throughout the ’70s, including his biggest seller, Rock ‘n’ Roll Animal, which contained performances of the Velvet Underground songs Sweet Jane and Heroin.
He also endured some flops but seldom lost faith in his ability to bounce back and follow a commercial disappointment with another success.
The ’80s saw Reed work with a number of innovative guitarists, including Chuck Hammer and Robert Quine, as well as becoming politically active (especially in his criticism of New York). He also marked the death of Andy Warhol by recording the biographical Songs for Drella, which was also notable for ending his 22-year estrangement with John Cale.
The ’90s saw Velvet Underground reform for several concerts, and become inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (1996), while Reed himself put out more solo albums – the most notable of which arguably came with 2000’s Ecstasy (which drew rave reviews from critics).
That same year, Reed also performed before Pope John Paul II at the Great Jubilee Concert in Rome.
In recent years, Reed became better known for his collaborations with some of contemporary music’s biggest acts. In August 2007, Reed went into the studio with The Killers to record Tranquilize, a duet with Brandon Flowers for The Killers’ b-side/rarities album, called Sawdust, while he also contributed vocals on the third Gorillaz album, Plastic Beach, on the song Some Kind Of Nature.
He also teamed up with metal rockers Metallica for the album Lulu.
An admitted hard drinker and drug user for many years, Reed underwent a liver transplant in May this year after he had cancelled five California concert dates scheduled in April.
But he came back as defiantly as ever, posting on his website: “I am a triumph of modern medicine. I look forward to being on stage performing, and writing more songs to connect with your hearts and spirits and the universe well into the future.”
Fellow musicians and artists have already began Tweeting their respects. The Who wrote: “R.I.P. Lou Reed. Walk on the peaceful side”, while Carl Barat said: “Goodbye Lou Reed. You gave me my strength and helped me in my weakness.”
The Pixies described him, simply, as a “LEGEND”, while Nile Rodgers wrote: “Lou Reed, R.I.P. I did the Jools Holland show with him last year and we yucked it up. I didn’t know he was ill….”
Weezer Tweeted: “R.I.P Lou Reed – VU was a big influence when weezer was being formed, and Ric Ocasek told us cool stories of his friendship with him.”
And Filth author Irvine Welsh said: “Sad to hear about Lou Reed passing. Such a star. RIP Lou, and thanks for giving us Perfect Day for Trainspotting.”