Farewell Lou Reed, Pioneer and Activist

28 Oct
Lou Reed, 1942 - 2013

Lou Reed, 1942 – 2013

The music world was stunned yesterday when a rock pioneer breathed his last. Lou Reed, the outspoken chameleon whose contributions helped launch virtually every left-of-center rock genre, died of complications from a recent liver transplant. He was 71.

Lewis Allan Reed was born in Brooklyn on March 2, 1942. He learned to play guitar at an early age and performed in a number of doo-wop and R&B groups. He went to Syracuse University, studying journalism and film. After graduation, he did a brief stint as a house composer for Pickwick records before branching out into more avant garde and subversive sounds.

Reed is perhaps most famous as the co-founder and principle songwriter of the Velvet Underground. Noted for their work with Andy Warhol, the quartet’s four albums ran the gamut from raw noise to delicate folk pop, with Reed’s deadpan vocals featured on most tracks. Despite minimal sales, the band’s output was massively influential. Reed went solo in 1970 and continued to produce challenging music on a wide variety of themes.

Openly bisexual, Reed was given electro-shock therapy as a teen in an attempt to “cure” him. (He famously wrote about the experience on the harrowing song Kill Your Sons.) His songs were frank explorations of very real themes largely avoided by popular music to that point. He explored sex thoroughly, often championing the gay and transgender people he had met while working with Warhol in his songs. His finest album, Transformer, flirted with glam rock and explored gender and sexual identity in ways that were frank and playful both. (The album also produced his only real hit, Walk On the Wild Side, the first Top 20 song to refer to oral sex.)

He also explored addiction and its complications and wrote many frank songs about domestic abuse and broken relationships. While the content was often dark, it was anchored by his unremitting sense of humanity and deep-rooted optimism. Reed was an outspoken critic of the forces of greed and corruption and never hesitated to criticize politicians, other musicians, or the press for their shortcomings in working for a better world.

Reed was a tireless philanthropist, contributing to many causes. He focused on AIDS and LGBT issues (including work with Cyndi Lauper‘s True Colors projects) as well as support programs for children. He participated in the first Farm Aid concert and contributed to animal rights campaigns. After recording an all-star version of his finest song, the lovely Perfect Day, to help support the BBC, he agreed to release it as a single, with all the proceeds going to Children In Need.; the single raised £2,125,000.

Years of alcohol and drug abuse had taken their toll, and Reed was increasingly frail in recent years. After receiving a liver transplant in April, he seemed to be doing much better and spoke of his increased energy. Sadly, the transplant had some complications, and Reed succumbed after a brief illness. He leaves behind a legacy of frank speaking, activism, and musical originality that will never be matched.

11 Responses to “Farewell Lou Reed, Pioneer and Activist”

  1. Jueseppi B. October 28, 2013 at 8:02 am #

    Reblogged this on The ObamaCrat™.

    • Robert Hulshof-Schmidt October 28, 2013 at 8:10 am #

      Thanks for reblogging this post, Jueseppi!

      • Jueseppi B. October 28, 2013 at 9:07 am #

        Lou will be missed, he was a pioneer and a real legend.

      • Robert Hulshof-Schmidt October 28, 2013 at 9:14 am #

        Absolutely, Jueseppi. There are few people who have had such an impact on modern music — and, sadly, fewer still who used their fame and fortune to such good effect.

      • Jueseppi B. October 28, 2013 at 10:20 am #

        I am reminded just how fragile human life is…so many entertainers I grew up with are gone.

  2. Robert Hulshof-Schmidt October 28, 2013 at 8:14 am #

    Reblogged this on Music and Meaning: The RBHS Jukebox and commented:
    A tribute to the amazing Lou Reed from Social Justice For All

  3. Central Oregon Coast NOW October 28, 2013 at 8:38 am #

    Reblogged this on Central Oregon Coast NOW.


  1. Album of the Week, December 29: The Velvet Underground and Nico | Music and Meaning: The RBHS Jukebox - December 29, 2013

    […] Lou Reed was a singer, guitarist, English lit scholar, and house songwriter for Pickwick. He met John Cale, a classically trained musician who left Wales to study with some leading lights in the avant garde music world. When they decided to form a band, they invited Reed’s college roommate, Sterling Morrison, to join the crew. They experimented with sounds and material, eventually adding drummer Maureen “Mo” Tucker and settling on the name the Velvet Underground. They came to the attention of Andy Warhol, who became their manager and incorporated them into his roadshow the Exploding Plastic Inevitable. He sponsored the band’s early studio sessions and became the producer of record for their first album. […]

  2. Album of the Week, September 28: Transformer by Lou Reed | Music and Meaning: The RBHS Jukebox - September 28, 2014

    […] Lou Reed was responsible for one of the most important bodies of popular music in the 20th Century. Born in Brooklyn in 1942, he played guitar and sang while in school. He pursued a journalism degree at Syracuse, but right after graduating went right back to music. After a brief period as a staff writer, he fell in with a diverse crowd and formed the Velvet Underground, musical pioneers that helped launch a dozen musical styles. By the time he left the Velvets, Reed had a solid reputation for lyrical honesty — often discussing topics that had been taboo — and solid musical chops. Best known for exploring the darker side of life with laserlike precision, he also had a strong romantic side and a deep sense of fun. His first solo album sounded like a weak Velvets disc, not a big surprise since he was that band’s primary writer and lead vocalist. Retrenching after that release, he hooked up with David Bowie, who had been deeply influenced by the Velvet Underground. Bowie co-produced Reed’s second album with regular collaborator Mick Ronson. Their glam-rock approach meshed nicely with Reed’s tales of losers, outcasts, and mavericks, resulting in a powerful album that is one of the most fun and celebratory in his long career. […]

  3. Album of the Week, July 12: Fragments of a Rainy Season by John Cale | Music and Meaning: The RBHS Jukebox - July 12, 2015

    […] Monte Young, among others. He also met someone who shared his rock-oriented interests, and he and Lou Reed formed the first incarnation of the Velvet […]

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