“I don’t believe in dressing up reality. I don’t believe in using makeup to make things look smoother,” words from the legendary rock-and-roll musician, singer, and songwriter Lou Reed, who passed away on Oct. 27, at the age of 71. As one of the founding members and primary lyricist of experimental 1960s rock band The Velvet Underground, Reed has been an inspiration to many throughout his lifetime. The band’s first album only sold roughly 30 000 copies, but a frequently cited comment from musician/producer Brian Eno states that, “everyone who bought one of those 30 000 copies started a band.” The Velvet Underground didn’t do commercially well during its early years, but has since become one of the most influential bands of that era.
In 1970, Reed left the band and went home to work as a typist for his father’s tax accounting firm. However, in 1971 he returned to making music and signed a deal with RCA Records. His second album, Transformer, features one of his most famous songs, “Take a Walk on the Wild Side.” It chronicles the people who frequented Andy Warhol’s notorious Factory, where gender differences didn’t matter and art and drugs were a common presence. In many interviews, Reed has emphasized how important and influential Warhol was in his perspective of life. It was Warhol who managed the Velvet Underground in the early days and encouraged Reed to write songs.
Reed’s solo career continued for four decades and includes 22 studio albums. He experimented with various musical genres, including ambient music, glam rock, protopunk, and heavy metal. Amid this is also a concept album produced in 2003 of Edgar Allen Poe’s short stories and poems. Reed’s final full-length recording project before he died was an album with Metallica in 2011. Featuring mainly spoken-word poetry over the instrumentals of a metal song, the album received mostly negative reviews, but nevertheless demonstrated Reed’s enduring, creative motivation.
Earlier this year, Reed reviewed Kanye West’s latest LP, Yeezus, for Rolling Stone, stating, “He’s really trying to raise the bar. No one’s near doing what he’s doing, it’s not even on the same planet.” Not many 71-year-old men are reviewing hip-hop albums, but Lou Reed wasn’t stuck in the generation of music he grew up and played in. He was always looking at the future of music, and as a pioneer in his own right he understood the necessity to always move forward.
For a man who spent the majority of his life experimenting and expanding the boundaries of music, it comes as no surprise that Lou Reed’s name will be remembered with the best of them.