Monday, October 28, 2013

Lou Reed 1942-2013


Singer songwriter Lou Reed has taken his final walk on the wild side, making the passage at the age of 71. The cause was apparently complications related to a recent liver transplant.

He died in Brooklyn, not too terribly far from where he was biorn and is survied by his wife, performance artist Laurie Anderson.

Reed first surfaced musically back in the 1960's with a group called The Velvet Underground, together with John Cale, a classically trained cellist and violist,guitarist Sterling Morrison and drummer Maureen "Mo" Tucker. They specialized in avant-garde rock, with Reed's lyrics on songs like 'Heroin' 'Run Run Run'. 'Waiting For The Man' and 'Venus In Furs' delving into gritty urban themes that included drug addiction, sadomasochism and homosexuality.

That made them absolutely perfect for artist Andy Warhol, who took over as their manager and featured them in the dada art scene that eventually became known as the Exploding Plastic Inevitable.

The group never sold much and were not popular anywhere but certain parts of the greater New York area.In an effort to increase sales, Warhol had them add German singer Nico to the lineup for their debut album 'The Velvet Underground And Nico'.It didn't do much business, but it caught the ears of a number of people and became one of those seminal albums. Oddly enough, while the VU was never exactly popular, a lot of people ended up being influenced by them. I forget whom it was that said that maybe 50 people actually were fans of the VU, but every one of them formed a band. In a sense, Reed was the godfather of punk,influencing people like David Bowie, Patti Smith, Iggy Pop and a whole slew of the New York punk scene.

Reed eventually surfaced a year or so after the VU broke up with a solo album on RCA, 'Transformer' produced by David Bowie and Bowie's guitar player Mick Ronson which did moderately well, providing Reed with a hit, 'Walk on the Wild Side' that was basically a series of short vignettes about some of the folks he knew back in the Warhol/Exploding Plastic Inevitable days.

Lou Reed's whole career was odd in that he rarely was all that popular, but his influence continued to be outsized. People tended to take his ideas and clean them up for commercial consumption. For instance, I have a bootleg of him in Australia playing a version of 'Waiting for The Man' (a song about hanging out waiting for his drug dealer to show up with the goods, of course) with an arrangement that Talking Heads borrowed almost note for note for their own hit cover of Al Green's 'Take Me To The River.'

That's simply how it went.

I was never a huge fan, simply because I have to be in a certain mood to listen to Reed's music and I'm seldom in that mood. But I'll when I am, albums of his like 'Berlin', 'Magic And Loss', some of the VU's better moments and the odd song here and there remain pretty compelling. His work meant a lot to a lot of people and his reach,in the end, exceeded his grasp. There's not much more an artist can ask for than that.



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