Famous Like Me > Composer > R > Lou Reed
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Profile of Lou Reed
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|Also Know As:
|Date of Birth:
||2nd March 1942
|Place of Birth:
||Freeport, New York, USA
Lou Reed (born Lewis Allen Reed on March 2, 1942 in Brooklyn, New York), is a rock and roll singer-songwriter of Jewish descent. Hailed as the “Godfather of Punk,” Reed has greatly influenced punk and alternative rock.
Reed first gained prominence as the guitarist and principal singer-songwriter of The Velvet Underground. The band, which lasted from 1965 until 1972 (with Reed departing in late 1970), gained little notice during its lifetime but is often considered the “big bang” from which most alternative rock sprang. As the Velvets’ songwriter, Reed wrote about such taboo subjects as S&M (“Venus in Furs”) and drug addiction (“I’m Waiting for the Man,” “Heroin”). As a guitarist, he made innovative use of abrasive distortion and peculiar tunings.
Reed has had a long and varied solo career. Although he scored a hit with 1972’s “Walk on the Wild Side,” he has purposefully evaded commercial success and has released albums that have frustrated even his fans (most notably 1975’s infamous Metal Machine Music, upon which he later commented that 'no one is supposed to be able to do a thing like that and survive'). Yet, for the most part, Reed has been widely admired by fans, music critics and fellow songwriters.
Reed has lived in New York City for most of his life and much of his music evokes the city.
Reed was a fan of rock and rhythm and blues, playing in several high school rock bands, and had recorded a doo wop-style single as a member of The Shades. Reed attended Syracuse University where he met poet Delmore Schwartz, whom Reed credits for his simple poetic vernacular and the encouragement to become a writer. Reed also developed a taste for free jazz and experimental music. Reed said later his goals were "to bring the sensitivities of the novel to rock music," or to write the Great American Novel in a record album.
Reed moved to New York City, working as a songwriter for Pickwick Records where he came up with a parody of then-popular dances, called "The Ostrich". The song had hit record potential, and Reed met John Cale when Cale joined a band put together around Reed, called the Primitives, to promote the recording. Reed also played Cale a handful of songs (including "Heroin") he assured him "they'll never publish." Cale thought otherwise, and they became collaborators.
This bond served as the basis for The Velvet Underground where Lou was lead guitarist/vocalist/lyricist. (In "The Ostrich", Lou tuned each guitar string to one note. Cale remarked at how genius this idea was for creating a droning effect. Lou in fact saw this used prior and simply copied the idea. It was used in the VU song "All Tomorrow's Parties". Though internally unstable (breaking up in 1970) and never commercially viable, the V.U.'s reputation as one of the most influential underground bands has remained intact.
In 1972 Reed, now a solo artist, released the glam rock album Transformer, produced by David Bowie and Mick Ronson. He followed this with Berlin, which tells something like a love story of two junkies in the city of the same name. This, one of the more depressing albums ever made, includes "Caroline Says II" (violence), "The Kids" (prostitution and drug addiction), "The Bed" (suicide) and, unsurprisingly, "Sad Song."
Reed's chosen subject matter was far ahead of its time. Popular music would not catch up to him until the punks in the mid- to late-1970s, but even then his songs were unique: whether drenched in feedback or gently melodic, Reed usually sang about the disturbing, if not sordid, things other lyricists left out. "Walk on the Wild Side" is a wry and graphic salute to the misfits, male hustlers and transvestites at Andy Warhol's Factory. "Perfect Day" was later included on the soundtrack to Trainspotting and used in an extensive promotional campaign by the BBC. In his chosen material Reed followed, and updated, such authors as Allen Ginsberg and Jean Genet. Reed's persona was also far advanced, preferring black leather and S&M-like gear even in the hippie-infested 1960s.
In 1975, he produced the double studio album of pure feedback Metal Machine Music. Some regarded it as an attempt to break his record company contract. The rock journalist Lester Bangs declared it genius. Though admitting that the liner notes' list of instruments used is fictitious and parodistic, Reed maintains that MMM was and is a serious album. His albums of the late 1970s are often regarded as a mixed affair by rock critics, owing at least partly to the addictions that were then overtaking Reed.
In the early 1980s, Reed gave up the drugs and depravity, both in his work and in his private life, to address more serious concerns, notably on his acclaimed comeback album The Blue Mask. He married Sylvia Morales (later divorced). Reed fired an angry salvo at his hometown's political problems on the hit album New York, denouncing crime, high rents, Jesse Jackson, even Pope John Paul II and Kurt Waldheim. When one-time Velvet Underground patron and producer Andy Warhol died after a routine surgery, Reed closed a 25-year hiatus to collaborate with fellow ex-V.U. John Cale on Songs for Drella, a Warhol biography in minimalist pop music. Touchingly affectionate and painfully confessional, often witty, Reed's vocals blister when singing of alleged medical errors and Valerie Solanas' 1968 assassination attempt on Warhol.
Reed continued on those dark notes with Magic and Loss, an album about mortality. In 1997 over thirty artists covered "Perfect Day" for the BBC's "Children in Need" appeal. Incorrect reports of his death were broadcast by numerous US radio stations in 2001, caused by a hoax email (purporting to be from Reuters) which said he had died of an overdose. In 2003, he released a 2-CD set, The Raven, based on the works of Edgar Allan Poe. In 2004, a Groovefinder remix of his song, "Satellite of Love" (called "Satellite of Love '04") was released. It reached #10 in the UK singles chart.
In 1996, he was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
He has been in a relationship with the artist Laurie Anderson for several years.
With The Velvet Underground
For full discography, please see the Velvet Underground article.
- The Velvet Underground and Nico (1967)
- White Light/White Heat (1968)
- The Velvet Underground (1969)
- Loaded (1970)
- Live at Max's Kansas City (1972, recorded 1970)
- 1969: The Velvet Underground Live (1974, recorded 1969)
- VU (1985, recorded 1968-1969)
- Another View (1986, recorded 1967-1969)
- Live MCMXCIII (1993)
- Peel Slowly and See (1995 box set, recorded 1965-1970)
- Bootleg Series Volume 1: The Quine Tapes (2001, recorded live 1969)
- The Very Best of the Velvet Underground (2003, recorded 1966-1970)
- Lou Reed (1972)
- Transformer (1972)
- Berlin (1973)
- Sally Can't Dance (1974)
- Metal Machine Music (1975)
- Coney Island Baby (1976)
- Rock 'n' Roll Heart (1976)
- Street Hassle (1978)
- The Bells (1979)
- Growing Up in Public (1980)
- The Blue Mask (1982)
- Legendary Hearts (1983)
- New Sensations (1984)
- Mistrial (1986)
- New York (1989)
- Magic and Loss (1992)
- Set the Twilight Reeling (1996)
- Ecstacy (2000)
- The Raven (2003)
- Rock 'n' Roll Animal (1974)
- Lou Reed Live (1975)
- Live: Take No Prisoners (1978)
- Live in Italy (1984)
- Live in Concert (1997)
- Perfect Night: Live in London (1998)
- American Poet (2001)
- Extended Versions (2003)
- Animal Serenade (2004)
- Songs for Drella with John Cale (1990)
- Le Bataclan '72 with John Cale & Nico (2004)
- Sweet Relief: A Benefit For Victoria Williams (1993)
- Bright Red, Laurie Anderson (1994)
- Till The Night Is Gone: A Tribute To Doc Pomus (1995)
- September Songs (The Music Of Kurt Weill) (1997)
- Rockin' on Broadway (The Time/Brent/Shad Story) (2000, includes first recordings with The Jades and solo )
- And All That Could Have Been (Nine inch nails tour documentary) (Uncredited)
- I'm a Bird Now Antony & the Johnsons (2005)
- The 30th Anniversary Concert Celebration, Bob Dylan (1993)
|US Hot 100
||US Modern Rock
||US Mainstream Rock
||#1 (4 weeks)
||"Busload of Faith"
||"Nobody But You" (with John Cale)
||Songs for Drella
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