Rock legend Lou Reed died from liver disease Sunday in New York at the age of 71. Lead singer for the Velvet Underground in the 60s and solo artist since, Lou’s songs highlighted the language and lives of city folk who huddled on the margins of society.
In that way, Lou Reed reshaped the musical landscape. The first musician to write lyrics in a straight-forward way about such taboo topics of the times as drugs, prostitutes, sex, and transvestites, he was also probably the first musician to dabble in all of them. That’s what was so compelling about his music. When Lou wrote, “Heroin will be the death of me,” he might well have been talking about himself. Likewise when he sang, “I’ve seen lots of people die from car crashes or drugs…” You knew it to be true. Some said he couldn’t sing. My reply, he could say; with conviction and from experience.
From his time with the Velvet Underground up to his collaboration with Metallica last year, Lou Reed shaped music. Influenced by the likes of William Burroughs and Allen Ginsberg, he himself went on to influence scores of musicians. Punk. New Wave. Alternative. Lou’s impact is on all of them despite only one Top-40 hit of his own. His songs and style brought respite to those who thought, “There’s not much to hear on the radio today.” If you listen to music, chances are you listen to music influenced by Lou Reed.
I was lucky enough to see him four times; two times in Chicago in the 80s, in Brussels in 2008, and last year here in Luxembourg at the Rockhal. I wrote a review of that show for Wort. Lou wasn’t at his best. Having just re-read the article it now, it seems he was already on his way out the door.
No matter, in his time Lou Reed did it all, “and it was all right”.