Friday, July 31, 2015

Lou Reed, founder of the Velvet Underground and trailblazing rock songwriter, dies

Rolling Stone has reported that Lou Reed, the profoundly influential rock songwriter who was a founder of the Velvet Undergound in the 1960s and went on to prolific solo career, has died. He was 71.

Lou Reed, founder of the Velvet Underground and trailblazing rock songwriter, dies

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Gallery: A look back at the life of Lou Reed

Rolling Stone has reported that Lou Reed, the profoundly influential rock songwriter who was a founder of the Velvet Underground in the 1960s and went on to prolific solo career, has died. He was 71.

Earlier this year, Reed underwent what was characterized as a life saving liver transplant. In June, he  wrote on his web site, "I am a triumph of modern medicine, physics and chemistry...I look forward to being on stage performing, and writing more songs to connect with your hearts and spirits and the universe well into the future." But on Sunday, his literary agent Andrew Wylie confirmed that Reed died Sunday morning on Long Island of an ailment related to the transplant. 

Reed had his greatest commercial success as a solo artist, and his best known song was “Walk On The Wild Side” the enduring 1972 hit produced by David Bowie that chronicled the exploits of assorted  hustlers and denizens of the night at the New York club Max’s Kansas City, and whose reference to oral sex went unnoticed by Top 40 radio censors a the time.

It was fitting that Reed’s breakthrough came with a song that celebrated transgression. In his years with the Velvets - who were managed early on by pop art entrepreneur Andy Warhol, who designed the famous yellow banana cover of their 1967 Velvet Underground & Nico debut - Reed wrote songs like “Venus in Furs,” "Waiting For the Man” and “Heroin” that made rock and roll safe for junkies, prostitutes, transvestites and decadent souls of all shapes and sizes.

In their first incarnation - Reed left the band, which would later reform in the 1990s, in 1970 - the Velvets never penetrated the mainstream. But as time wore on the legend of the group, whose other key members included John Cale, Sterling Morrison and Maureen Tucker, grew, as did its impact on the  coming punk- and alternative rock movements. In an oft-repeated quote, British record producer Brian Eno said in 1982 that although The Velvet Underground & Nico only sold 30,000 copies in the years after its initial release, “everyone who bought one of those 30,000 copies started a band."

The Velvets' "White Light, White Heat" is below.

Previously: Harry Dean Stanton, Partly Fiction Follow in the Mix on Twitter

Inquirer Music Critic
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