Sunday, October 27, 2013

Lou Reed dead at 71: A Look Back at His Life and Career

Lewis Allan "Lou" Reed
March 2, 1942- October 27, 2013

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Singer/songwriter Lou Reed, one of the founding members of rock legends Velvet Underground, has passed away today. The cause of death has not been confirmed though it has been reported Reed did have a liver transplant earlier this year. Reed was 71.

Born in New York, Reed started his career in 1964 with a minor hit single called "The Ostrich".  It was around this time that Reed met a Welsh multi-instrumentalist named John Cale. With Cale, guitarist Sterling Morrison and drummer Angus MacLise- the Velvet Underground were formed in 1965. Before they played their first show, MacLise left the band. Replacing MacLise was drummer/percussionist Maureen "Moe" Tucker. Tucker was different from other drummers, as she chose to stand while playing the drums. 

With Tucker, the band played around New York until they caught the eye of artist Andy Warhol. Warhol offered to be the band's manager and managed to get them signed to Verve/MGM Records. Warhol also insisted they add German model/singer Nico to the band as their lead singer. The band were against this idea but Reed managed to write three songs for Nico to sing on the band's debut album, The Velvet Underground and Nico. The album was released in 1967 to mixed reviews and as a result, the album fell out of the Billboard charts. Tensions between the band and Warhol led to Warhol's departure, taking Nico with him.

The Velvet Underground continued as a four-piece band, releasing the aggressive White Light/White Heat in early 1968. Cale left shortly after due to tensions between he and Reed. Doug Yule replaced him for the band's  1969 self-titled album, which was more acoustic and tame compared to the loudness of the band's first two albums. Before the release of 1970's Loaded, Reed left the band. In fact, Reed had gone missing for a period of time. He decided he would stay home with his parents and find a "real" job.

Reed eventually came back with a self-titled album in 1971, which did close to nothing. This was when David Bowie came to the rescue. Bowie, an avid Velvet Underground fan, decided he would produce Reed's next album. That album, 1972's Transformer, would become the most successful album of Reed's career. It even earned Reed an unexpected hit single with "Walk on the Wild Side", a song that paid tribute to Warhol's Factory. 

Transformer  was followed with the ambitious Berlin in 1973. While not well received by the critics at the time of its release, it is regarded as a classic today. The rest of Reed's solo career could be best described as "hit or miss": when he made a good album, it was good (The Blue Mask, New York and Magic and Loss are examples). When he made a bad album, it was BAD. Take 1975's Metal Machine Music: although the album served as the perfect "f*ck you" to the record label, it alienated fans as the double-album was filled with nothing but endless guitar feedback. 

Reed would reunite with his Velvet Underground band mates in the early 1990's. In 1990, he and John Cale release a studio album entitled Songs For Drella, a heartfelt tribute to the recently deceased Andy Warhol. The Velvet Underground briefly reunited in 1992-1993 for a European tour with Reed, Cale, Morrison and Tucker in tact. 

 Before his death, Reed kept recording and performing. His last album was 2011's ill-fated Lulu, a collaboration with Metallica. The album was universally panned by critics and fans. Metallica fans even went as far to sending death threats to both Reed and Metallica. This did not bother Reed, citing that he thought he lost all his fans after Metal Machine Music

Reed is survived by wife and performance artist, Laurie Anderson. 

As you can tell by my post, I'm deeply saddened by Lou Reed's passing. He's truly one of the greatest rock musicians ever. As a singer/songwriter, the man was amazing. I also have to give credit to the Velvet Underground for expanding my music tastes when it comes to both experimental music and alternative rock. 

Goodbye, Lou. 

Say hello to Nico, Andy and Sterling for us. 

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