Lou Reed Is Dead (1942-2013)

Categories: R.I.P.

Lewis Allan "Lou" Reed from the cover art of his landmark 1972 album Transformer
Tragic news broke this morning of the death of venerated rock 'n' roll vanguard Lou Reed. He was 71 years old. Rolling Stone first reported the passing of the rock and pop legend, who died from unspecified causes, early today in New York. He had undergone a liver transplant earlier this year, although it is currently unknown if it contributed to his death.

As an icon, Reed's influence on both music and popular culture -- from his time with The Velvet Underground and collaborations with Andy Warhol to his solo career that began with the David Bowie and Mick Ronson-produced album Transformer -- over his 49-year career are vast and incalculable.

You would be hard-pressed to find a pop or indie musician worth his or her salt who doesn't own at least one copy of such magnum opuses as The Velvet Underground & Nico, White Light/White Heat, or Transformer on vinyl or otherwise

Timothy Greenfield-Sanders
Lou Reed, circa 2000.
As a musician, he infused the avant-garde, experimental, and arty touches into the pop world and became one of the prototypes of the punk-poet, as well as essentially helping to invent punk rock in general.

As a songwriter, he was both fearless and groundbreaking, turning his personal and professional tragedies and struggles with addiction into lyrics that spoke to the alienated and delved into taboo topics and were as poetic as they were unflinching.

In June 2000, former Voice Media Group scribe Robert Wilonsky penned an exhaustive and profound profile of Reed and both his life and career entitled, "Turning Time Around: Lou Reed is an old man in rock years, but he continues to be born again" that ran in the pages of Phoenix New Times. It is reprinted here in full as a way of honoring the musician, one of the true greats, on the event of his passing.

And then Lou Reed says, "I love you."

It's his way of answering a question that could, in truth, be interpreted as a vague compliment -- something about how his albums have never conformed to fad or fashion, something about how Lou Reed albums always sound like Lou Reed albums. (Guess he thinks that's a good thing -- he's right.) Reed doesn't mean anything by it; only an idiot or a sycophant would read anything into those three words being spoken by a rock-star stranger. But it's just odd to hear them coming from Lou Reed, being spoken in that deadpan New York drone that survives intact even over a transatlantic phone line. I love you. Uh . . . me too?

His is, and always has been, a voice that reveals little emotion. Whether he's singing of "closing in on death" or being "the one who loves you in each and every way," Reed refuses to show his hand or, for that matter, his heart. It is there, probably: His friends have always insisted that despite the granite exterior -- the lips that refuse to smile, the eyes that refuse to open -- Lou's a hopeless romantic. He's in love with love, enamored of the idea that one can be reborn in a new relationship; it is, in fact, the theme of so much of his recent work. But Reed is also cynical enough to insist it never lasts. To him, love is but a fleeting notion in which only poets and fools believe.

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Flyer9753 topcommenter

You will be missed Lou


Thank you for reprinting this wonderful article as a memorial to Lou Reed.  My heart breaks to know he is gone.  I know many people around the world revered Lou's work; it's an achievement that never made him a popular success but he had higher goals than that and he long ago achieved them and kept going.  I'm glad he understood he earned a place in the culture equal to the one Delmore Schwartz had in his generation. Lou had many years of being a tortured soul and often, I understand, a self-centered, hurtful person.  But he clearly got beyond that in his later years and, over his lifetime, gave back far more than he took.  The best thing I could say about any of us.

I had a tiny glimpse of Lou's romanticism the one time I had the honor to meet him.  I talked with him about a poetry reading I had traveled from my home in Pittsburgh to NYC to see.  Lou and Jim Carroll reading poetry for charity at the Ethical Culture Society.  He expressed puzzlement that anyone would drive that far for such a thing in his inimitable deadpan voice.  "Wow.  That's crazy.  I mean if you lived there it would be one thing ... but driving all that way.  Wow."   I carried the ticket to that event in my wallet and I took it out and showed it to him.  Instead of acting like I was a goof, he seemed genuinely touched.  He got out a pen, wrote his name on it and beside his name he made a row of XXXX's.  I'll take that to mean he loved me, too.

I keep thinking of the end of his song A Dream, "Gee, wouldn't it be funny if I died in this dream / before I could make another one up."  No, it wouldn't be funny, Lou. 

 It would be better to remember this older song:

Early in the morning, I'm so free
Late in the evening, I'm so free
Yeah, yeah, yeah, I'm so free
When I feel good, I'm so free
When it's in the morning, I'm so free
When it's in the evening, I'm so free
I'm so free, I'm so free.

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