By Elana Katz
I can distinctly remember the first time I heard a song by the Velvet Underground. I was watching Things We Lost in the Fire, a 2007 drama starring Halle Barry and Benico Del Toro. The credits rolled to one of the sweetest rock songs I had ever heard.
Immediately following the end of the film, I waited to see who had created such a beautiful song. It was Lou Reed and the Velvet Underground playing “Sweet Jane,” from their 1970 album Loaded.
With deep sorrow, the rock and roll community said goodbye to American guitarist and songwriter Reed on Sunday, Oct. 27, 2013. Reed influenced successive generations of musicians including Nirvana, Patti Smith, David Bowie, Red Hot Chili Peppers and The Strokes.
Former Roxy Music founder and producer Brian Eno once stated, “The first Velvet Underground record sold 30,000 copies in the first five years. I think everyone who bought one of those 30,000 copies started a band!”
The Velvet Underground’s influence on musicians from the ‘70s and onwards is undeniable.
Reed was 71 and died of liver disease after a transplant in April. Reed had always been open about his drug use in the past, but remained sober and healthy for the latter part of his adult life.
Following the transplant, Reed stated, “I am a triumph of modern medicine, physics and chemistry. I am bigger and stronger than ever.” Reed had no intention of disappearing just yet.
Upon hearing about Reed’s death, many fellow musicians took to Twitter to express their condolences, share how Reed influenced their music and ultimately celebrate Reed’s full life.
Rock band Weezer tweeted, “R.I.P. Lou Reed-VU was a big influence when Weezer was being formed, and Ric Ocasek told us cool stories of his friendship with him.”
Singer James Morrison tweeted, “‘One chord is fine. Two chords are pushing it. Three chords and you’re into jazz.’ – Lou Reed ~ RIP.”
Slash of Guns N’ Roses expressed his struggle with Reed’s passing, “Haven’t really accepted the reality of the loss of Lou Reed. Still trying to process it. Denial I guess.”
Lenny Kravitz shared his appreciation, tweeting, “Lou, rest in peace on the wild side. #rip #loureed.” There was no shortage of love for Reed or his music on that day.
After studying music at Syracuse University, Reed made his way to New York City. There, he frequented the pop and art worlds and finally found work as a house songwriter at the low-budget Pickwick Records. At Pickwick, Reed met soon-to-be bandmate John Cale. They first worked as the Warlocks and the Primitives before ultimately becoming the Velvet Underground.
This name was lifted from a Michael Leigh book about sexual subculture, which became the center of their lives at Andy Warhol’s New York studio, The Factory. It was a very creative space and ultimately a hub of experimentation in art, music, filmmaking, drugs and sex. Reed continued to work and create alongside Cale and the Velvets, making three more albums until splitting from the group in 1970.
After quitting the Velvet Underground, Reed went on to a successful solo career. Merely two years later, Reed released a self-titled solo album, which marked the beginning of his 40 years of solo work.
Reed’s second solo album, Transformer, co-produced by David Bowie and Mick Ronson, features “Walk on the Wild Side,” an experimental rock song that was inspired by Reed’s time at The Factory. It became a radio hit during the early ‘70s and remains an absolutely essential listen for any lover of rock and roll.
British rock band Arctic Monkeys recently performed “Walk on the Wild Side” during their encore while on tour a few days after Reed’s death. The touching tribute paid homage to Reed and commemorated his place in the rock and roll community.
Along with “Sweet Jane” and “Walk On the Wild Side,” Reed is known for other hits including “Heroin,” “Perfect Day” and “Street Hassle,” a seminal song that director Noah Baumbach utilized in the 2005 family melodrama, The Squid and the Whale.
Despite their long-term animosity, Reed finally came back together with Cale for “Drella,” a tribute to Warhol, in 1990. Reed continued to work throughout the 1990s and early 2000s, producing albums such as Set the Twilight Reeling and Ecstasy. In 2011, Reed teamed up and collaborated with Metallica on Lulu.
Despite his failing health, Reed’s creative spirit never ceased.
We will forever be indebted to Reed’s walk on the wild side and overall contributions to art and music.
He will be sorely missed by musicians and devoted fans alike.