News / Arts & Entertainment

American Rock Pioneer Lou Reed Dead at 71

American Rock Pioneer Lou Reed Dead at 71i
X
October 28, 2013 6:02 AM
Influential American rock musician Lou Reed, the widely acknowledged poet laureate of the dark, hard-edged genre known as punk rock, has died in New York.
Richard Paul
Singer Lou Reed, front man of the 1960s band “The Velvet Underground” has died.  

There is a difference in show business between being popular and being influential.  Lou Reed was certainly one but not the other.  Mark Jenkins, a music writer for the Washington Post, pointed out that while Reed recorded many albums during the peak of his career, none of them sold very well.

Richard Paul's Lou Reed Obit
Richard Paul's Lou Reed Obiti
|| 0:00:00
...
 
🔇
X

"By and large they weren't played on the radio," he added." But they contained songs that are now very well-known."
 
With his complex, journalistic lyrics and his intimate style of singing, Reed and the Velvet Underground had a  greater impact than other bands of the era who were much more financially successful.

“The people who listened to them turned out to be people like David Bowie, Brian Eno, Patty Smith, Talking Heads and so forth,” Jenkins noted.

Reed was born on New York’s Long Island.  He started playing guitar at age 10.  At Syracuse University he studied with poet Delmore Schwartz, a man novelist Saul Bellow once called, “The Mozart of conversation.”  In a 1998 PBS documentary, Reed talked about the impact Schwartz had on his writing.

“There was an example of how the simplest language imaginable -- very short -- you could accomplish the most astonishing height of art,” Reed said.

After college, Reed moved to New York City he and a string instrumentalist named John Cale took to singing on the street in Harlem.  In 1965 they teamed up with Sterling Morrison and drummer Maureen Tucker to form the "The Velvet Underground."  At exactly that time, Andy Warhol was looking for a band to play in a multimedia installation he was creating.  When he heard the Velvet Underground, he knew he had found what he was looking for.

Their association with Warhol made the Velvets the darlings of the New York art world, but it was after they broke away from him that they had their greatest impact.  The music world was changing in the mid-1970s and the loud, angry, cynical, feedback-laden music they played would come to influence a generation of younger musicians.  

“The very first record that pointed me in the direction of punk rock was the first Velvet Underground, ‘The Velvet Underground and Nico.’  I'd never heard anything like it,” confided Steve Hansgen, the bass player for the influential “Straight Edge” punk band Minor Threat.

“The song ‘Run, Run, Run’ off the first Velvet Underground album is very pounding, very punk rock, very distorted," Hansgen said.

That song, he added, made a distinct impression on him and his bandmates as they got ready to record the song that gave Minor Threat its name.  

“I know that Lyle Pressler, the guitar player in Minor Threat who wrote that song, was definitely very influenced by Velvet Underground,” he said.

Jenkins said Hansgen’s experience was not an isolated one.

“The songs were simple but the sound was complex.  And that was an influence on punk rock,” he explained.

Throughout his career, Lou Reed cultivated an attitude and a series of characters.  He was thought by many to be gay, though he was married to three different women through his life.  He was also thought to be a heavy drug user.  But Jenkins said the reputation was not his real life.

“I know he sang about heroin, he sang about amphetamines, but my impression is that he really took a lot more alcohol than opiates," the writer said. "And that may explain the liver damage.”

And it was liver damage that finally - on October 27 - brought an end to Reed’s life and to his broad and influential career.

This tweet from Reed's account is widely believed to have been a veiled announcement of his passing:


You May Like

Ebola Death Toll Nears 5,000 as Virus Advances

West Africa bears heaviest burden; Mali toddler’s death raises new fears More

Jordan’s Battle With Islamic State Militants Carries Domestic Risks

Despite Western concerns that IS militants are preparing a Jordanian offensive, analysts call the kingdom's solid intel a strong deterrent More

Asian-Americans Assume Office in Record Numbers

Steadily deepening engagement in local politics pays off for politicians like Chinese-American Judy Chu More

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
Comments
     
by: Markt
October 28, 2013 7:12 AM
You know you're getting old when you are saddened at the passing of a rock pioneer, and a younger person says; "who?" I was never a big fan or Lou, but I'm sorry he's gone now. All the good ones are going away, or have gone away. Music, and the world will never be the same with those voices forever stilled except what is left on recorded material.

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Talks to Resume on Winter Gas for Ukrainei
X
Al Pessin
October 25, 2014 4:21 PM
Ukrainian and Russian officials will meet again next week in an effort to settle their dispute over natural gas supplies that threatens to leave Ukraine short of heating fuel for the coming winter. VOA’s Al Pessin reports from London the dispute is complex, and has both economic and geopolitical dimensions.
Video

Video Talks to Resume on Winter Gas for Ukraine

Ukrainian and Russian officials will meet again next week in an effort to settle their dispute over natural gas supplies that threatens to leave Ukraine short of heating fuel for the coming winter. VOA’s Al Pessin reports from London the dispute is complex, and has both economic and geopolitical dimensions.
Video

Video Smugglers Offer Cheap Passage From Turkey to Syria

Smugglers in Turkey offer a relatively cheap passage across the border into Syria. Ankara has stepped up efforts to stem the flow of foreign fighters who want to join Islamic State militants fighting for control of the Syrian border city of Kobani. But porous borders and border guards who can be bribed make illegal border crossings quite easy. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video Comanche Chief Quanah Parker’s Century-Old House Falling Apart

One of the most fascinating people in U.S. history was Quanah Parker, the last chief of the American Indian tribe, the Comanche. He was the son of a Comanche warrior and a white woman who had been captured by the Indians. Parker was a fierce warrior until 1875 when he led his people to Fort Sill, Oklahoma, and took on a new, peaceful life. As VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Cache, Oklahoma, Quanah’s image remains strong among his people, but part of his heritage is in danger of disappearing.
Video

Video China Political Meeting Seeks to Improve Rule of Law

China’s communist leaders will host a top level political meeting this week, called the Fourth Plenum, and for the first time in the party’s history, rule of law will be a key item on the agenda. Analysts and Chinese media reports say the meetings could see the approval of long-awaited measures aimed at giving courts more independence and include steps to enhance an already aggressive and high-reaching anti-corruption drive. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.
Video

Video After Decades of Pressure, Luxembourg Drops Bank Secrecy Rules

European Union finance ministers have reached a breakthrough agreement that will make it more difficult for tax cheats to hide their money. The new legislation, which had been blocked for years by countries with a reputation as tax havens, was approved last week after Luxembourg and Austria agreed to lift their vetoes. But as Mil Arcega reports, it doesn’t mean tax cheats have run out of places to keep their money hidden.
Video

Video Kobani Refugees Welcome, Turkey Criticizes, US Airdrop

Residents of Kobani in northern Syria have welcomed the airdrop of weapons, ammunition and medicine to Kurdish militia who are resisting the seizure of their city by Islamic State militants. The Turkish government, however, has criticized the operation. VOA’s Scott Bobb reports from southeastern Turkey, across the border from Kobani.
Video

Video US ‘Death Cafes’ Put Focus on the Finale

In contemporary America, death usually is a topic to be avoided. But the growing “death café” movement encourages people to discuss their fears and desires about their final moments. VOA’s Jerome Socolovsky reports.
Video

Video Ebola Orphanage Opens in Sierra Leone

Sierra Leone's first Ebola orphanage has opened in the Kailahun district. Hundreds of children orphaned since the beginning of the Ebola outbreak face stigma and rejection with nobody to care for them. Adam Bailes reports for VOA about a new interim care center that's aimed at helping the growing number of children affected by Ebola.

All About America

AppleAndroid

New in Music Alley

Border Crossings

Joe Taylor sits down with "Border Crossings" host Larry London to talk about his distinction as New York’s “Subway Idol,” and how he beat out thousands for that title. Joe performs several songs from his new CD, “Anything’s Possible.”