1942-2013: Remembering Lou Reed

Rob O'Connor
Stop The Presses!

Though best known for the solo hit "Walk On the Wild Side" and various other classics — "Sweet Jane," "Rock and Roll," "Perfect Day" — and for his legendary cold demeanor, Lou Reed, who died on October 27, 2013, was one rock 'n' roll veteran who never broke character.

He amassed a large and varied catalog that included early work with the highly influential and critically respected Velvet Underground where he came into contact with the band's mentor Andy Warhol, solo albums where he worked with David Bowie, Robert Quine and Fernando Saunders, and collaborations with John Cale, John Zorn, Metallica, and third wife Laurie Anderson. He was, as one album stated, a "Rock 'n' Roll Animal."

Lewis Allan Reed was born in Brooklyn and raised in Freeport, Long Island, where he developed an interest in doo-wop, rock 'n' roll, and rhythm & blues from listening to the local radio stations. His first recordings were as a member of the Jades when still a teenager. In the fall of 1960, he attended Syracuse University, studying journalism, film directing and creative writing. It was there he was befriended by the poet and short story writer Delmore Schwartz, who encouraged Reed's writing but who passed shortly after in 1966. The association, however, was to have a lifelong effect on Reed, who dedicated the song "European Son" from the first Velvet Underground album, The Velvet Underground & Nico, to his memory.

In 1964, Reed moved to New York City and worked as an in-house songwriter for Pickwick Records, where he had a minor hit with "The Ostrich," a parody of popular dance songs of the era, which included the line, "put your head on the floor and have somebody step on it." The Primitives, the band invented to perform the song included Welsh musician John Cale, who was then working with composer LaMonte Young. Reed and Cale soon lived together on the Lower East Side and formed the Velvet Underground on the basis of Reed compositions such as "Heroin" and "Venus In Furs," which discussed drug use and sadomasochism, respectively. The band soon caught the attention of artist Andy Warhol and recorded four studio albums with Reed during their lifetime, including White Light / White Heat and Loaded. It was said the band may have only sold 100,000 albums, but everyone who bought copies formed a band.

Reed left the Velvet Underground and returned to Freeport, Long Island. However, he was soon signed to RCA Records, for whom he recorded a number of solo albums, including 1972's Transformer, which contained the fluke hit "Walk On the Wild Side" (highest chart position #16 in the U.S.), the second single "Satellite of Love" and "Perfect Day," which would grow more famous as the years wore on.

Reed's solo albums included the controversial Metal Machine Music, the critically well-received Berlin, Street Hassle, The Blue Mask, and New York, and his collaboration with John Cale on their tribute to Andy Warhol, Songs For Drella. Even his more critically blasted albums such as Metal Machine Music and Lulu, his collaboration with Metallica, were noted for their fearless artistic expression.

In April 2013, Reed went underwent a liver transplant in Cleveland. He is survived by his wife, performance artist Laurie Anderson.