Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Lou Reed: 1942-2013

It would be difficult to overstate Lou Reed's contributions to modern music. As founder and lead singer of the most influential rock band of all time, The Velvet Underground, he did more to broaden the lyrical range of popular music than just about anyone since Lennon/McCartney or Bob Dylan. His formative influence on punk music is undeniable; as essential to punk's progression as Patti Smith, Iggy Pop, and The Ramones. Even his voice, which has nothing in the way of technical proficiency, has been endlessly imitated. (Listen to any Sonic Youth record from the '80s or '90s and you'll hear Thurston Moore and Kim Gordon doing their best Lou Reed impression.)

Post-Velvet Underground, Reed collaborated with kindred spirit David Bowie, became a glam-rocker, became whatever is the opposite of a glam-rocker, released an entire album of noise (Metal Machine Music) that is still divisive, and experimented with everything from rap to cabaret. He also cultivated a curmudgeonly public persona that grew more myopic with each passing year. Reed had a special loathing for music critics; many of his interviews seem weirdly tense, even on the page, and he was notorious for blowing cigar smoke in his interlocutors' faces. Given his long-standing antipathy for music journalism, it was downright shocking when earlier this year he published a lengthy review of Kanye West's  album Yeezus. In typical Reed fashion the review was effusive, profanity-laden, and entirely heartfelt.

Lou Reed lived one of those wild American lives that, however improbably, just kept on going. He underwent electroshock therapy as a teenager, experimented with everything that the '60s/'70s New York art-scene had to offer, hung out at Andy Warhol's Factory, struggled with narcotics addiction, remade himself artistically, time and time again, and left a musical legacy that continues to inspire and challenge.

The Velvet Underground and Nico (with the Velvet Underground)
The Velvet Underground Live at Max's Kansas City (with the Velvet Underground)
The Definitive Collection
The Best of Lou Reed
Coney Island Baby
Animal Serenade
Metal Machine Music

Lou Reed: Rock and Roll Heart

Please Kill Me: The Uncensored Oral History of Punk