FLASHBACK: Lou Reed 1942 – 2013
Whether you’re a die hard fan of The Velvet Underground, are a proud owner of Between Thought and Expression or are only aware of ‘Walk On The Wild Side’, I place no doubt in my mind that we’ve all come across the work of LOU REED at some point or continuation of our lives.
With great despair, we now bear the knowledge that this talented musician has left the world at 71 years of age. During this time of sadness, we’re privileged to be able to celebrate the life and love of Lewis Alan Reed as we have known him within his music career; pivotal to the journey of rock and roll and the sub-genres that have emerged from it.
In the lead up to his music career, Reed studied poetry and journalism at University, which has so obviously been translated into his songwriting. In the early 1960s, Reed left his hometown of Freeport for New York City, where he met John Cale, Sterling Morrison and Moe Tucker through his work with Pickwick Records. Reed and Cale formed The Primitives (later known as The Warlocks) and wrote just one record together.
The Warlocks in a way took precedence for the music career of these two artists, as in 1964, Reed and Cale grouped with those aforementioned – the four musicians that would make the highly influential cult outfit The Velvet Underground. Soon adopted by Andy Warhol, the Pop artist became their manager, and introduced them to German singer-songwriter Nico. The band recorded four very emotive and influential records in just as many years, yet seemingly found higher success subsequent to their unit’s existence. Each record on display has proved to be an absolute masterpiece and fundamental to the evolution of Punk music.
However, in 1970 Lou Reed left The Velvet Underground during the recording of their final album, and kept a desolate profile for the following two years. Eventually though, he relocated to England where he revamped himself as a solo artist and released his debut self-titled record in 1972. Featuring unreleased Velvet tracks that Reed had previously written, it also hosted ‘Berlin’ – a track about a couple trapped in a well of depression. This single would also be the title track of his third record, released in 1973.
Before Berlin though, Lou Reed employed the prime of his career, as his seminal solo record Transformer was released in 1972. Produced by David Bowie (a huge Lou Reed fan), Transformer was his greatest success, as it sat at number 29 on the album charts. Featuring the solemn ‘Perfect Day’, it was also habitual to Reed‘s most established hit – the contextual ‘Walk On The Wild Side’.
Touching on controversial topics relating to race, transsexuality and male prostitution, it encapsulates five superstars of Andy Warhol’s Factory; a verse each dedicated to Holly Woodlawn, Candy Darling, Joe Dallesandro, Joe Campbell (aka Sugar Plum Fairy) and Jackie Curtis. This song climbed up to the 16th spot of the charts.
From here on in, Lou Reed was releasing an album almost every year up until the early nineties. His music touched on whatever the media was battling, as the writer shared no boundaries with his audience. His music was honest and at times controversial, establishing himself as an artist not only of talent, but impact. During these years, Reed also found himself switching from labels RCA to Sire, feature in film shorts and wed Sylvia Morales.
In 1990, Lou Reed and John Cale collaborated once again on a concept album titled Songs For Drella – a tribute to the late Andy Warhol (1929-1987). This year also saw The Velvet Underground regroup for a one-off benefit gig in France. Subsequent to this, the band came back again to tour Europe with U2 in 1993, though ceased to continue for later projects (with the exception of a dedicated performance to the band’s late Sterling Morrison who passed away in 1995). Due to their important reunion, the show was recorded and released as a live album titled Live: MCMXCIII.
Also during the 90s, Between Thought and Expression was released – a box set of Lou Reed‘s work, alongside a published book of his lyrics. He had also divorced Morales (1991) and formed a serious relationship with Laurie Anderson.
The new millennium saw Reed release his final three solo records – Ecstasy (2000), The Raven (2003) and Hudson River Wind Meditations (2007) – allowing a total of 20 released albums under his own name. He also released collaborative efforts, such as the improvised, experimental record Stone: Issue Three with Cale and his partner Anderson in 2008 and Lulu with Metallica in 2011; as well as a reissue of Metal Machine Music, originally released in 1975.
Lou Reed‘s work did not only help sculpt the work of many artists, his influence has carried over greatly to some fantastic renditions, such as Castle Face Records [and friends]’ grabbing an elite spread of artists (including Ty Segall, The Oh Sees and Warm Soda) for a reimagination of The Velvet Underground & Nico, and Yves Klein Blue‘s cover of ‘Walk On The Wild Side’ for Triple Js Like A Version. Another note to add is that his song ‘Perfect Day’ features on the Trainspotting soundtrack and is closely associated to the famous Cold Turkey scene.
In 2010 we were very lucky to have both Lou Reed and his wife Laurie Anderson co-curate Sydney’s VIVID – the festival of light, sound and ideas.
A highly regarded artist, it is with great sadness that we have lost such an important model in the history of Rock & Roll, though it is with profound certainty that his legacy will reign for a very, very long time.
Rest easy you absolute legend.
Words by Hannah Galvin.