Lewis Allan Reed, known as Lou Reed, was an American musician, songwriter, and photographer. He was born on March 2, 1942, in New York City and passed away on October 27, 2013, in East Hampton, New York.
Reed was the guitarist, singer, and principal songwriter for the rock band The Velvet Underground. He had a solo career that spanned five decades and became known for his distinctive voice, poetic lyrics, and experimental guitar playing. Reed was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame twice, once as a member of The Velvet Underground and once as a solo act.
Early Life and Education
Lou Reed, born on March 2, 1942, in New York City, grew up in Freeport, Long Island. His parents, Toby and Sidney Reed, provided a nurturing environment for his upbringing. Reed attended Atkinson Elementary School and later, Freeport Junior High School. It was during his early years that Reed developed a profound passion for rock and roll and rhythm and blues music. Fascinated by the sounds of these genres, he began learning to play the guitar, with dreams of a future in the music industry.
Reed’s educational journey led him to Syracuse University, where he continued to explore his interests. At Syracuse, he had the opportunity to study poetry under the guidance of Delmore Schwartz, a renowned poet and writer. Reed’s time at Syracuse also saw him host a late-night radio program, further immersing himself in the world of music and entertainment.
Music and Poetry
Growing up with a love for rock and roll and rhythm and blues, Reed’s early musical influences shaped his artistic sensibilities.
Studying poetry under Delmore Schwartz at Syracuse University allowed Reed to further refine his creative skills and develop a unique poetic voice.Advertisement
His time hosting a late-night radio program at Syracuse provided a platform for him to share his love for music and poetry with a wider audience.
Reed’s journey through education and exposure to different art forms laid the foundation for his future career as a musician and songwriter. His early life experiences and education played a significant role in shaping his distinctive style and artistic vision.
The Velvet Underground Formation
In 1964, Lou Reed joined forces with John Cale, Sterling Morrison, and Angus MacLise to form the rock band The Velvet Underground. Later on, Moe Tucker replaced Angus MacLise in the lineup. Together, they created a groundbreaking sound that captured the attention of the avant-garde music scene.
The band’s unique style and experimental approach set them apart from their contemporaries. They delved into topics that were considered taboo at the time, exploring themes of drugs, sexuality, and urban decay. Their raw and gritty sound, combined with Lou Reed’s poetic lyrics, challenged traditional notions of rock music.
Andy Warhol, the prominent artist and cultural icon, took notice of The Velvet Underground and became their manager. Warhol’s influence helped propel the band into the spotlight, giving them a platform to showcase their music to a wider audience.
In 1967, The Velvet Underground released their debut album, “The Velvet Underground & Nico,” featuring the German singer Nico. The album, produced by Andy Warhol, was met with critical acclaim but struggled commercially at the time.
Despite their short-lived existence, The Velvet Underground’s impact on music cannot be overstated. Their experimental sound and unapologetic lyrics would go on to inspire countless musicians and shape the future of alternative and indie rock.
Influences and Musical Style
- The Velvet Underground drew inspiration from various genres such as rock, folk, and avant-garde music.
- Lou Reed’s poetic and introspective songwriting, coupled with John Cale’s innovative use of viola and keyboard, created a unique sonic landscape.
- The band’s exploration of dissonance, feedback, and unconventional song structures pushed the boundaries of what was considered acceptable in popular music.
The Velvet Underground’s formation marked the beginning of a musical revolution that continues to reverberate to this day. The band’s influence and legacy can be seen in the work of artists ranging from David Bowie to Sonic Youth, solidifying their place in music history.
Lou Reed’s Solo Career
After leaving The Velvet Underground, Lou Reed embarked on a successful solo career. He released twenty solo studio albums, starting with his self-titled debut in 1972.
- Transformer (1972) – Produced by David Bowie, this album featured the iconic hit single “Walk on the Wild Side” and became Reed’s most commercially successful album.
- Berlin (1973) – This concept album explored dark themes of drug addiction and domestic violence, showcasing Reed’s artistic depth.
- Sally Can’t Dance (1974) – With a more mainstream sound, this album included upbeat tracks and became Reed’s highest-charting solo album in the US.
- New York (1989) – Known for its politically charged lyrics, this album received critical acclaim and is considered one of Reed’s most powerful works.
Throughout his career, Lou Reed continued to release music and collaborate with other artists, pushing the boundaries of his artistry.
Other Projects and Collaborations
In addition to his solo work, Lou Reed ventured into various projects and collaborations, showcasing his versatility as a musician.
- Collaboration with John Cale: Reed joined forces with fellow Velvet Underground member John Cale on the album “Songs for Drella.” This tribute to Andy Warhol, their former manager, paid homage to his artistic legacy.
- Theatrical Interpretations: Reed contributed music to theatrical interpretations, lending his creative talents to live performances and enhancing the overall experience.
- Film Soundtracks: Reed also worked on soundtracks for films, adding his musical touch to the cinematic world and expanding his artistic range.
- Collaboration with Metallica: In 2011, Reed teamed up with the iconic metal band Metallica to create the album “Lulu.” This unexpected collaboration combined their unique styles and resulted in a daring and experimental project.
Lou Reed’s willingness to explore different genres and collaborate with other artists allowed him to push the boundaries of his craft and create truly diverse and memorable musical experiences.
Personal Life and Relationships
Lou Reed had a rich personal life, marked by several relationships and marriages. He experienced the ups and downs of love and companionship throughout his life, which greatly influenced his music and songwriting.
Reed was married three times. His first marriage was to Bettye Kronstad in 1973, but the union ended in divorce the same year. In 1980, he married Sylvia Morales, and their marriage lasted until 1994. Finally, in 2008, Reed tied the knot with musician Laurie Anderson, and they remained together until his passing.
These personal relationships served as a wellspring of inspiration for Reed, who often drew from his own experiences and interactions with his loved ones. Through his music, he shared stories of love, heartbreak, and the complexities of human relationships, resonating with listeners on a profound level.
Net Worth and Commercial Success
When Lou Reed passed away in 2013, he had a net worth of $15 million. Although The Velvet Underground did not achieve significant commercial success during their active years, their influence on underground and alternative rock music is highly regarded. Reed’s solo career experienced its ups and downs, with some albums attaining commercial success while others did not translate into high sales. However, his unique style and contributions to music earned him critical acclaim and a dedicated fan base.
Height and Physical Appearance
Lou Reed was known for his distinct appearance and style. He stood at a height of 5 feet 10 inches (1.78 meters).
Reed’s physical appearance became iconic, with his dark hair, sunglasses, and sometimes provocative outfits. He had a unique stage presence and persona that added to his artistic image.
Legacy and Influence
Lou Reed’s contributions to music and the art world have left a lasting legacy. The Velvet Underground’s experimental and influential sound paved the way for alternative and indie rock.
Reed’s poetic and transgressive lyrics, along with his distinctive voice, have inspired countless musicians. His impact on music extends beyond his own work, and his influence can still be heard in contemporary music.
- Reed’s ability to merge rock music with poetic storytelling set him apart from his peers. His introspective and raw lyrics explored themes of love, drugs, and urban life, resonating with a generation of artists.
- The Velvet Underground’s innovative use of drones, feedback, and non-traditional song structures challenged the boundaries of rock music. Their influence can be heard in bands such as Sonic Youth, Joy Division, and The Strokes.
- Reed’s solo albums continued to push musical boundaries and experiment with different genres. His exploration of noise, spoken word, and ambient music influenced artists like David Bowie, Patti Smith, and R.E.M.
Lou Reed’s legacy as a boundary-pushing artist and his influence on a wide range of musicians solidify his position as a true icon of rock music.
Accolades and Recognitions
Lou Reed’s contributions to music and his influence on the industry have been widely recognized and celebrated. Throughout his career, Reed received various accolades and recognitions for his groundbreaking work.
One of the most notable achievements in Reed’s career came in 1996 when The Velvet Underground, the band he co-founded and was a key member of, was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. This recognition solidified their importance in the history of rock music and their lasting influence on subsequent generations of musicians.
Reed’s individual talent and success as a solo artist were also acknowledged with another induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2015. This honor highlighted his significant impact as a songwriter, guitarist, and vocalist, further cementing his status as a music icon.
In addition to these prestigious inductions, Lou Reed received countless other accolades and recognitions from industry professionals and critics alike. His innovative sound, poetic lyrics, and fearless exploration of musical boundaries consistently earned him acclaim and admiration.
Lou Reed Accolades:
- Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction with The Velvet Underground (1996)
- Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction as a solo artist (2015)
- Countless other industry accolades and recognitions
Lou Reed’s impact on music and his remarkable contributions continue to be celebrated, ensuring that his legacy will endure for generations to come.
Struggles and Health Issues
Lou Reed endured various personal struggles and health issues throughout his life. These challenges greatly impacted both his career and personal life.
- Drug addiction and alcoholism: Reed battled with addiction to drugs and alcohol, which had a significant impact on his well-being and relationships.
- Diabetes and hepatitis: In addition to his struggles with substance abuse, Reed also suffered from diabetes and hepatitis, further complicating his health.
- Liver transplant: In 2013, due to liver disease, Reed underwent a critical liver transplant to improve his condition.
Regrettably, despite medical intervention, Lou Reed passed away later that year at the age of 71, leaving behind a legacy of musical brilliance and artistic impact.
Remembering Lou Reed
Lou Reed, the iconic musician and songwriter, continues to be remembered and celebrated by fans and fellow musicians alike. His contributions to rock and alternative music have had a profound and lasting impact on the industry. Reed’s unique style, poetic lyrics, and experimental guitar playing set him apart from his contemporaries, making him a true pioneer in the music world.
Reed’s music continues to resonate with listeners around the world, even years after his passing. Songs like “Walk on the Wild Side,” “Perfect Day,” and “Sweet Jane” have become timeless classics that showcase Reed’s talent for storytelling and his ability to capture the essence of the human experience.
Through his music, Lou Reed left an indelible mark on the music industry and inspired countless musicians. His daring and boundary-pushing approach to music challenged the status quo and paved the way for future generations of artists. His influence can still be heard in the work of musicians across various genres, proving that his impact on music is truly timeless.