Sunday, October 27, 2013

RIP, Lou Reed


When I woke up this morning, there was a tweet from Lou, The Door. It made me want to say hello; I didn't. And now I never will be able to again. When I was in college, in the mid-60's I never missed a Velvet Underground show in NYC. If they did 4 shows in a week, I schlepped into Manhattan on the Long Island Rail Road 4 times. A Velvets show at the Dom, the Exploding Plastic Inevitable, always trumped schoolwork. Decades later, Seymour Stein brought Lou into my life again by signing him to Sire, where I worked. Almost no one believed Lou had it in him to make another great record. Seymour did-- and so did Bill Bentley and Steven Baker, two of my colleagues at Warners. And then Lou recorded New York in 1989, one of his most commercially successful records ever. "Dirty Blvd" was enough of a hit to get us invited to the White House to perform at a State Banquet for President Clinton and Lou's old friend, President Vaclav Havel of the Czech Republic. When I took over as president of Reprise, Lou decided to stay with me and transfer over. He was my favorite artist on the label.

Lou and I were both born in Brooklyn and both grew up within a few miles of each other in Nassau County, him in Freeport, me in Valley Stream and Roosevelt. His song "Heroin" had a gigantic impact on my life. Fortunately for me, I got over it relatively quickly.

Lou had a bad reputation as a mean, nasty guy. I never saw that side of him-- and I hung out with him a lot, even after I retired from Warner Bros. He was always a sweet, loving, caring, empathetic person-- as well as brilliant, interesting and unique. I cherish the times we spent together and thank God (and Seymour) for letting that happen for me. This morning I went for a walk with extra goodies for all the dogs in the neighborhood in honor of Lola, Lou's rat terrier who lost her daddy today.

This morning two random things came to my mind that I can share. One had me sitting at a table at the White House with either Lugar or Hatch-- I can't remember which-- while Lou sang "Dirty Blvd" and the senator danced in his seat. [Wait! I just checked the guest list… it was Lugar.] The other was going with Lou for a concert in Mexico City. He had never played there before and wondered if anyone would understand his lyrics. The place was sold out and going crazy and it seemed like every person could recite every single lyric to every single song. The next day we went to an art museum and I showed Lou a Francis Bacon painting. He was unfamiliar with Bacon but loved it. I told him I was sure I could talk Bacon into doing a painting for his next album cover. Lou was blown away. When I got back to my office a few days later, I found out Bacon had died the day Lou and I were looking at his work.

I don't know how Lou died. I don't know anything more than you do. I called his cell phone when Andy Paley told me he had heard Lou died. No one answered. Rolling Stone:
Lou Reed, a massively influential songwriter and guitarist who helped shape nearly fifty years of rock music, died today. The cause of his death has not yet been released, but Reed underwent a liver transplant in May.

With the Velvet Underground in the late Sixties, Reed fused street-level urgency with elements of European avant-garde music, marrying beauty and noise, while bringing a whole new lyrical honesty to rock & roll poetry. As a restlessly inventive solo artist, from the Seventies into the 2010s, he was chameleonic, thorny and unpredictable, challenging his fans at every turn. Glam, punk and alternative rock are all unthinkable without his revelatory example. "One chord is fine," he once said, alluding to his bare-bones guitar style. "Two chords are pushing it. Three chords and you're into jazz."

Lewis Allan "Lou" Reed was born in Brooklyn, in 1942. A fan of doo-wop and early rock & roll (he movingly inducted Dion into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1989), Reed also took formative inspiration during his studies at Syracuse University with the poet Delmore Schwartz. After college, he worked a staff songwriter for the novelty label Pickwick Records (where he had a minor hit in 1964 with a dance-song parody called "The Ostrich"). In the mid-Sixties, Reed befriended Welsh musician John Cale, a classically trained violist who had performed with groundbreaking minimalist composer La Monte Young. Reed and Cale formed a band called the Primitives, then changed their name to the Warlocks. After meeting guitarist Sterling Morrison and drummer Maureen Tucker, they became the Velvet Underground. With a stark sound and ominous look, the band caught the attention of Andy Warhol, who incorporated the Velvets into his Exploding Plastic Inevitable. "Andy would show his movies on us," Reed said. "We wore black so you could see the movie. But we were all wearing black anyway."

"Produced" by Warhol and met with total commercial indifference when it was released in early 1967, VU’s debut The Velvet Underground & Nico stands as a landmark on par with the Beatles' Sgt. Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band and Bob Dylan's Blonde On Blonde. Reed's matter-of-fact descriptions of New York’s bohemian demimonde, rife with allusions to drugs and S&M, pushed beyond even the Rolling Stones’ darkest moments, while the heavy doses of distortion and noise for it’s own sake revolutionized rock guitar. The band’s three subsequent albums-- 1968’s even more corrosive sounding White Light/White Heat, 1969’s fragile, folk-toned The Velvet Underground and 1970’s Loaded, which despite being recorded while he was leaving the group, contained two Reed-standards “Rock & Roll” and “Sweet Jane,” were similarly ignored. But they’d be embraced by future generations, cementing the Velvet Underground’s status as the most influential American rock band of all time.

After splitting with the Velvets in 1970, Reed traveled to England and, in characteristically paradoxical fashion, recorded a solo debut backed by members of the progressive-rock band Yes. But it was his next album, 1972’s Transformer, produced by Reed-disciple David Bowie, that pushed him beyond cult status into genuine rock stardom. “Walk On the Wild Side,” a loving yet unsentimental evocation of Warhol’s Factory scene, became a radio hit (despite its allusions to oral sex) and “Satellite of Love” was covered by U2 and others. Reed spent the Seventies defying expectations almost as a kind of sport. 1973’s Berlin was brutal literary bombast while 1974’s Sally Can’t Dance had soul horns and flashy guitar. In 1975 he released Metal Machine Music, a seething all-noise experiment his label RCA marketed as a avant-garde classic music, while 1978’s banter-heavy live album Take No Prisoners was a kind of comedy record in which Reed went on wild tangents and savaged rock critics by name (“Lou sure is adept at figuring out new ways to shit on people,” one of those critics, Robert Christgau, wrote at the time). Explaining his less-than-accommodating career trajectory, Reed told journalist Lester Bangs, “my bullshit it worth more than other people’s diamonds.”

Reed’s ambiguous sexual persona and excessive drug use throughout the Seventies was the stuff of underground rock myth. But in the Eighties, he began to mellow. He married Sylvia Morales and opened a window into his new married life on 1982’s excellent The Blue Mask, his best work since Transformer. His 1984 album New Sensations took a more commercial turn and 1989’s New York ended the decade with a set of funny, politically cutting songs that received universal critical praise. In 1991, he collaborated with Cale on Songs For Drella, a tribute to Warhol. Three years later, the Velvet Underground reunited for a series of successful European gigs.

Reed and Morales divorced in the early Nineties. Within a few years, Reed began a relationship with musician-performing artist Laurie Anderson. The two became an inseparable New York fixture, collaborating and performing live together, while also engaging in civic and environmental activism. They were married in 2008.

Reed continued to follow his own idiosyncratic artistic impulses throughout the ‘00s. The once-decadent rocker became an avid student of T-ai Chi, even bringing his instructor onstage during concerts in 2003. In 2005 he released a double-CD called The Raven, based on the work of Edgar Allen Poe. In 2007, he released an ambient album titled Hudson River Wind Meditations. Reed returned to mainstream rock with 2011’s Lulu, a collaboration with Metallica.

“All through this, I’ve always thought that if you thought of all of it as a book then you have the Great American Novel, every record as a chapter,” he told Rolling Stone in 1987. “They’re all in chronological order. You take the whole thing, stack it and listen to it in order, there’s my Great American Novel.” 

First reactions on this post from some of the artists who feel they owe Lou so much. And, of course, there's this:


Today's NY Times identified the cause of death as liver disease.



At 3:28 PM, Blogger VG said...

Thanks Howie. I knew that you would do a post on this. Great post, great tribute.


At 4:44 PM, Blogger VG said...

This is being noticed in France.!/le-chanteur-lou-reed-est-mort-a-71-ans-60214

"the death of a giant"

At 11:39 AM, Anonymous Bil said...

Ditto VG, Thanks Howie, I knew you would have something to say on Lou Reed. RIP.

At 7:52 PM, Anonymous Kizi said...

Busy life circumstances than the current world history. Must try to earn money to support themselves, their families and pay for living. But not so that you neglect your own health, but more must cherish it.


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