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Lou Reed - Rock Legend

30th October 2013

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It must be said that you’d be hard pushed to find anyone who could disagree with Lou Reed’s rock legend status.

Lou Reed

His influence stretches through the DNA of modern rock music. His seminal work with the Velvet Underground in the 1960s re-wrote the blueprint for what rock could be and remains a key inspiration for new acts to this day.

He died on Sunday at his Long Island home in New York, aged 71.The cause was liver disease – having received a transplant earlier this year he released a hopeful statement saying "I am a triumph of modern medicine, physics and chemistry.” Apparently he’d been receiving treatment again until a few days ago.

Throughout his long career he dug his own furrow in the field of rock n roll, with his distinct style pushing the boundaries. His dead-pan voice, knowing lyrics and dark, abrasive energy are instantly recognisable.

The Velvet Underground, who gained infamy while managed by pop-artist Andy Warhol, failed to make a commercial impact during their life-span. But their impact on music is immeasurable.

 As Brian Eno famously stated in a 1982 interview, the first album may have only sold 30,000 copies in its early years but “everyone who bought one of those 30,000 copies started a band.”

Indeed the 1967 release, The Velvet Underground & Nico, of which Eno speaks is a seminal release that earns its place in the list of ‘greatest albums of all time.’

The band challenged the flower power mood and concocted a venomous sound based on the dark 

underbelly of New York – covering dark subject matter such as sado-masochism, drug use and prostitution.

It has a blunt literary street style and definitely an air of New York realism. Speaking to the journalist Kristine McKenna Reed once said: “I’ve always believed that there’s an amazing number of things you can do through a rock ‘n’ roll song…and that you can do serious writing in a rock song if you can somehow do it without losing the beat. The things I’ve written about wouldn’t be considered a big deal if they appeared in a book or movie.”

Such themes continued into Reeds solo work after The Velvets split in 1971.

His second solo album, Transformer, produced by David Bowie and Mick Ronson, introduced him to a wider popular audience while cementing his position as a rock legend in his own right. The single ‘Walk On 

The Wild Side’ proved a massive hit as an affectionate ode to the misfits, transvestites and hustlers who once surrounded Andy Warhol.

His solo efforts certainly proved erratic and he continued to release albums to mixed reviews. Notably Metal Machine Music (1975), a feast of electric guitar feedback with no singing and no drums, perhaps misunderstood at the time, is now considered to be a precursor to the noise-rock genre.

As recently as July this year he was to comment on this album and state that: “I thought of it like, ‘Wow, if you like guitars, this is pure guitar, from beginning to end, in all its variations.  And you're not stuck to one beat.’”

His final full-length studio recording project was the 2011 collaboration with Metallica on the album Lulu.

Reed was often hostile about the confused critical response his work received and gained a reputation as a difficult interview subject – often insulting and monosyllabic as he defended his stylistic choices and his right to contradict himself.

Reed wrote a review of Kanye West’s Yeezus just weeks after his liver transplant and commented on its artistic creation alongside his own Metal Machine Music: “It works because it's beautiful — you either like it 

or you don't — there's no reason why it's beautiful.  I don't know any musician who sits down and thinks about this.  He feels it, and either it moves you too, or it doesn't, and that's that.  You can analyze it all you want.”

A free-thinker, innovator and maverick Lou Reed sits at the top of the rock music greats, and has left a body of work now so important it forms part of the very fabric of modern popular culture.

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