R.I.P. Lou Reed

If you’re Facebook friends with anybody who pays attention to music at all, odds are you’ve seen the news that one of alternative music’s most influential artists EVER, Lou Reed, died on Sunday. We at the music library, like everybody else, are very sad to wish him goodbye.

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Perhaps Lou Reed’s most famous gig was the songwriter and frontman for the inimitable Velvet Underground. While the Velvets’ career (1964-1973) was never commercially successful, they are revered for having influenced nearly every band that followed in some way. Their music is trademarked by simple, droning chord structures, blasts of guitar noise, and Reed’s cooler-than-anything-else, nearly spoken delivery, singing nihilistic and sometimes shocking lyrics about the darker side of urbanity (particularly that of New York City). However, between all of the noisy, raging intensity, there can be found moments of beautiful, pop songwriting genius. This has led people to claim, for example, that every single song on the Velvets’ first album, 1967’s The Velvet Underground & Nico has inspired a different subgenre of alternative music (be it punk, noise rock, dream pop, krautrock, or twee). This album is now considered a legendary classic, a more important 60s album than even Sgt. Pepper’s. The albums that followed it, 1968’s harsh White Light/White Heat, 1969’s softer The Velvet Underground, and 1970’s Loaded, Reed’s last album with the band, are nearly equally revered and influential.

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The Velvet Underground (standing with Nico and manager Andy Warhol) in 1967. Reed is in the center, folding his arms.

In 1970, after four albums with the VU, Lou Reed left the band. While he struggled for a year or two to find some footing, he returned to the music scene in strong form with 1972’s Transformer, an avant-glam album made with David Bowie that introduced Reed to a larger pop audience. Since then, his multi-decade solo career has led him through tragic rock operas (1973’s Berlin), feedback-drone suites (1975’s Metal Machine Music), and live albums peppered with Lenny Bruce-esque rants (1978’s Take No Prisoners), and releases through the ’80s and ’90s. More recently he created a soundtrack album for his own meditation routine (2007) and a collaborative album with Metallica, Lulu (2011), a release that puzzled most but in its own truculent, idiosyncratic way was through and through a Lou Reed album.

Reed on the cover of Transformer (1972).

A misfit’s celebrity, an off-the-wall genius and famed narcissist who seemed to be immortal (having survived early commercial failure, drug abuse, and the ravages of a hedonistic lifestyle), Lou Reed died yesterday at the age of 71. Initial disbelief ensued, followed by a mourning that has completely permeated the music world. In fitting tribute, liberal volumes of touching words are being written online, as scores of famous musicians, hundreds of music journalists and thousands of fans wave a tearful goodbye to this curmudgeonly and impossibly influential musical figure.

We in the music library are doing our part in remembering Lou Reed by playing out our awesome Velvet Underground box set, Peel Slowly And See, which features 5 discs including the band’s 4 classic albums, a gigantic collection of demos and live rarities, and a cool cover with a Warhol-illustrated banana that you can peel open, just like the record sleeve of their iconic first album. So come check it out, and get dark, get dirty, get crazy and get inspired by the music of Lou Reed in the AU Music Library.

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