Lou Reed: Musical Innovator and Rock Icon Dead at 71

Whether we know it or not, all of us have probably experienced the musical influences of Lou Reed. His multitudes of solo work, produced from the 70s to as recently as 2012, as well as his work in several groups, most notably The Velvet Underground, permeates contemporary musical style: punk and alternative rock would be unrecognizable without his contributions.

Lou Reed was born in 1942 and was a fan of early Rock and Roll, Rhythm, and Blues. He taught himself to play guitar and adapted several Jazz techniques to his personal style. In his youth, he was severely mistreated for his bisexuality and was forced to take part in an electroconvulsive therapy experiment that involved severe and painful electric shock in an attempt to cure his bisexuality. At Syracuse University, Reed studied under the poet Delmore Schwartz, after which the songs “European Son” and “My House” are dedicated.

A young Lou Reed

 A Promotional Poster for the Exploding Plastic Inevitable

Under Warhol’s direction, the group reluctantly partnered with EuropeIn 1964, Reed formed The Velvet Underground with John Cale, Tony Conrad, Sterling Morrison, and Maureen Tucker. They quickly caught the attention of pop art icon, Andy Warhol. At the time, Warhol was hosting a series of multimedia exhibitions known as the Exploding Plastic Inevitability, and the fledgling band was incorporated as its main musical act. A young Reed found himself surrounded by new artists and styles which were vibrant though oft disregarded and disrespected. He drew upon these experiences as inspiration for his musical work.

an singer, Nico, and released The Velvet Underground and Nico. Though the album was not commercially successful and is cited by many as evidence that the group was more proficient in free thinking and artistic questioning than actual musical talent or ability, it is credited with inspiring a plethora of new musicians.It was ranked the 13th most influential album of all time by Rolling Stone Magazine.

After his work in The Velvet Underground, Lou Reed pursued an extensive solo career that remains incredibly diverse and influential. Though his avant garde style and individualistic nature leads to doubts about his actual musical ability, he continued to create music until his death on October 27 of this year.

Though influential, The Velvet Underground is considered by many as lacking in musical talent and ability, and the members are revered more for their inventive style and originality than their ability as performers and creators. Many remember Reed as less of a musician and more of a musical explorer.  Whatever opinion one holds of Reed, it is impossible to deny that he hugely altered popular music during his lifetime and the ramifications of his work continue to echo into the present: in the words of Rolling Stone Magazine, he is “[Assured] a place in anyone’s rock & roll pantheon.”

-Sam Wiley

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