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Monday, October 28

Feature: Lou Reed - March 2, 1942 – October 27, 2013 - An American Rock N' Roller

After a long spell of bad health and a liver transplant, rock pioneer Lou Reed finally passed away at age 71, yesterday. The dark poet of the age of Aquarius, the New York yang to the San Francisco yin, finally left us. I can’t think of any artist of note that wouldn’t name the Velvet Underground as an influence.  The old saw is that not many people bought the Velvet’s first album but everyone that did started a band. What most people don’t realize is that long before that album, Lou Reed was plugging away as a Brill building songwriter, pumping out the schmaltz that Americans couldn’t get enough of in the early 60’s.

Luckily, he met Welsh multi-instrumentalist, John Cale and spent months busking around New York City playing the songs that would make up the first Velvet Underground album.  After getting in touch with Sterling Morrison, Doug Yule, and Maureen Tucker, the band was formed. However, the true turning point was when Andy Warhol saw the show and decided to sponsor them. After adding Nico on vocals, the band took off with one of the most iconic album covers in history.

The legendary shows from this era cemented Lou’s reputation as one of the preeminent voices of the time and changed the way concerts were presented to the audience permanently. Most artists would be happy with this but Reed was one of the few artists that was willing to slaughter a cash cow because it felt artistically fraudulent.  After a handful of albums, each with multiple tracks that lesser artists would make a career out of just one of them. Songs like “:Pale Blue Eyes”, “Sister Ray”,” Waiting for the Man” and perhaps the most controversial song of the Velvets’ career, “Heroin” The band called it quits and Lou moved on to a solo career that spawned his most well-known hit, “Walk on the Wild Side” and his most challenging album, Metal  Machine Music. Lou never stopped creating and recording new music. His most popular solo album,Transformer, spawned a few hits and his collaboration in Berlin with David Bowie and Iggy Pop, was just another phase in his long and storied career.

Lou had a reputation as a curmudgeon, a jerk, and a tough interview but he was an artist and he remained true to that his entire life. His world was exotic, mysterious, and a little bit scary and that was part of his allure. Most people never saw the New York of Reed and Warhol and crew but he gave you a peephole into the dark, dangerous, slightly dirty underground of the times that were overshadowed by hippie-dippy bubble gum psychedlia. The man was a true poet. He inspired the bands that the next generation call essential. The Pixies,Sonic Youth,etc.He was the dark Dylan, the godfather of bands like Television and the whole CGBG scene.

Let me end with an anecdote.  In Chicago in 69 at the Electric Factory,  the Velvets and the Grateful Dead shared a stage. The first night the Dead opened and the next night the Velvets opened. In this era, both bands were known for long, extended sets and the first night the Dead stretched out their set way past the allotted time. Needless to say, leaving the Velvets thirty minutes to play rubbed them the wrong way. So the next night, the Velvets opened and played until the Dead had enough time to only play a song or two, even though they still played all night to people sleeping in the floor. The idea of each of these bands trying to stretch out and prank the other band just makes me smile. Lou Reed was a poet like Rimbaud and Baudelaire and he will truly be missed. He was a giant among mortals.
By: Greg Heffelfinger
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