Born: March 2, 1942; Died: October 27, 2013
LOU REED, who died yesterday aged 71, was widely regarded as one of the most influential musicians in rock music; his work with The Velvet Underground acquired a cult following, while his mordant lyrics broke new ground by dealing explicitly with subjects such as bisexuality and drug addiction.
Brian Eno claimed that, though the Velvet Underground's first album sold only 30,000 copies, "everyone who bought one of those 30,000 copies started a band". Reed's unconventional guitar technique - in the early days of the band, he tuned all the strings to the same note - and his deadpan vocal delivery proved enormous influences on later rock music, particularly punk and alternative rock. He once declared: "One chord is fine, two chords is pushing it. Three chords and you're into jazz."
Lewis Allan Reid was born in Brooklyn, New York, and grew up on Long Island, where he became interested in doo-wop and taught himself to play the guitar by listening to the radio. In adolescence, his bisexuality led to his undergoing sessions of ECT treatment designed to suppress homosexual impulses; they didn't work.
In 1960, he enrolled at Syracuse University, where he studied journalism and creative writing and was influenced by the poet Delmore Schwartz. He also hosted a late-night radio show which played doo-wop, rhythm and blues and free jazz records. After graduating in 1964, Reed got a job as a house songwriter for Pickwick Records, for whom he wrote a novelty record called The Ostrich, which was a minor hit. Among the musicians brought in to play on the song was the Welsh viola player John Cale, and he and Reed began to work together, initially under the name The Primitives. They were soon joined by Sterling Morrison, with whom Reed had been at university, and eventually by the drummer Maureen Tucker. By this time the group had adopted the name The Velvet Underground, a name which deliberately echoed the sexually trangressive themes of Reed's early songs, such as Venus In Furs.
The group, who dressed menacingly in black leather, came to the attention of the artist Andy Warhol, who promptly appointed himself their manager and integrated them into the "happenings" at his studio, The Factory. Throughout 1965 and 1966, they performed as the house band for Warhol's films, often alongside the German model Nico, with whom Reed, and later Cale, had affairs. During this period, Reed briefly left the band because of illness (he had contracted hepatitis, and eventually received a liver transplant in April this year).
Their first record, The Velvet Underground & Nico, featured an iconic cover designed by Warhol featuring a banana; Warhol was also described as the album's producer. With its frank accounts of drug use and sex and droning, gothic melodies, it peaked at No 171 in the US charts. In 2003, however, it was cited as the 13th most influential album of all time by Rolling Stone magazine.
After parting company with Nico and Warhol, they produced White Light/White Heat, on which Reed experimented with distortion. By this stage, however, he and Cale were moving in different musical directions and by 1969's The Velvet Underground, Reed had eased Cale out of the band.
The following year's Loaded was Reed's last record with the group, though it brought them their biggest hit, Sweet Jane.
After a brief stint working as a typist for his father's accountancy firm, Reed travelled to London to record a solo album, with the unlikely backing of Steve Howe and Rick Wakeman from the prog-rock band Yes. Reed gained little attention, but his second solo record, Transformer (1972) which was produced by David Bowie and Mick Ronson and featured three of Reed's best-known songs, Walk On The Wild Side, Perfect Day and Satellite Of Love brought him more mainstream success.
He was later rather to resent the popular success of this record, and he followed it with the much darker Berlin, about junkies, domestic abuse, prostitution and suicide in the city. In 1974 he released two albums, Sally Can't Dance and Rock'n'Roll Animal, a live record.
By this stage, Reed was becoming as well-known for his uncompromising rock'n'roll lifestyle, in which drugs and ambiguous sexuality featured prominently, as for his music. He responded with a double album which might have been designed to alienate his audience entirely. Metal Machine Music (1975) consisted largely of electronic feedback, and listed fictitious instruments. He later admitted "No one is supposed to be able to do a thing like that and survive" and, though he claimed it was a serious record, also admitted he had been "very stoned" while recording it.
The same year's Coney Island Baby was dedicated to his then lover, a transgender woman called Rachel, and several other records followed. By now Reed was being hailed as an inspiration by the punk rock movement, though he was as usual dismissive: "I'm too literate to be into punk," he said. To rub the point in, he worked with the jazz musician Don Cherry on 1979's The Bells.
In the 1980s, he curbed his wild behaviour, and married the British designer Sylvia Morales; 1982's The Blue Mask was generally held to be a return to form after a series of pedestrian records and after Warhol's death in 1987, he worked again with John Cale on Songs For Drella. After his 16th solo album, Magic And Loss (1992), which was a meditation on mortality, Reed reunited with the other members of The Velvet Underground for a European tour; in 1996 the band was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
Reed and Morales were divorced after 10 years of marriage, and he formed a relationship with the performance artist Laurie Anderson with whom he occasionally collaborated, notably on Ecstasy (2000) and The Raven (2003), inspired by Edgar Allen Poe's work. They married in 2008.
In his later years Reed, firmly established as the grand old man of avant-garde rock, turned to photography, poetry and spoken-word performances, as well as popping up as a guest performer with artists as varied as The Killers, Metallica and Gorillaz. He got into t'ai chi, released an album of ambient music and directed the video for Susan Boyle's rendition of Perfect Day (though he initially refused her permission to perform it). Surveying his career in an interview with Rolling Stone, he declared: "If you thought of it all as a book then you have the Great American novel, every record as a chapter."
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