Lou Reed was more than a rock star. He was a street poet, a purveyor of the grit and the grime of the under-belly of New York. His music was polarizing but also deeply influential. His late 60s work with Andy Warhol’s The Velvet Underground helped shape modern music. Not in a way like The Beatles or The Rolling Stones – no – The Velvet Underground took a different route; it was musical guerrilla warfare. Stealth.
1970 saw the release of Lou Reed’s self-titled debut, while he released Transformer in 1972. It was his masterpiece. Produced by David Bowie and Mick Ronson, Transformer featured Walk On The Wild Side, Perfect Day, Vicious and Satellite of Love. That’s a heck of a line-up – and it’s only half the album.
Berlin was a soft, almost spiritual release in 1974, while Metal Machine Music (1975) was an exercise in sonic distortion. The mellow Coney Island Baby drew on his love of Doo-wop and 1989’s New York was a mid-career masterpiece (featuring the classic Dirty Boulevard). Later releases saw a double album inspired by Edgar Allan Poe titled The Raven and his most recent release was Lulu with Metallica.
Movie-wise, Reed’s music has been a fixture on many soundtracks, while he made his acting debut opposite Paul Simon in 1980’s One Trick Pony. He made other movie appearances, but he never settled into that career path.
Lou Reed had a tough life. As a teenager he was given electro-shock therapy (inflicted by his parents to cure his bisexuality) and he had problems with drink and drugs. He was a tortured soul, but he was an artist. Unflinching. Reed played the game his own way – never bowing to anyone. Not even when he had a liver transplant earlier this year.
Musical artists like Lou Reed rarely come around. His work wasn’t about the money, or the fame (although he achieved both), it was simply about the work. He never took the easy route and he took some hits for that on a critical level. However, he has left behind a large and creatively rich body of work, one which will give inspiration and joy to many for decades to come.
Lou Reed was 71 years old when he died.