A 1995 story in Interviewdeclared, “Since the 1960s, Lou Reed has arguably been one of the most influential figures in rock’n’ roll.” The mercurial Reed—whose group The Velvet Underground may have been the first art-rock band and was certainly crucial to the development of today’s “alternative” rock—has pursued a very personal path in his solo career. Experimenting with everything from glam rock to pop to all-out noise, he has disregarded commercial considerations in the name of his own truths. “Sometimes the definition of what rock and roll is caused me to be thought of in ways that are too confining,” he commented in a 1992 Sire Records press biography, “so sometimes it becomes easier to just think of it as’Lou Reed Music.’”
Reed was born in 1942 and raised on Long Island, New York. He became infatuated with rock and roll and rhythm and blues during his teens. He wrote his own songs and performed with bands like the Shades during the 1950s; he also frightened his parents with his behavior. According to Victor Bockris’s 1995 biography Transformer: The Lou Reed Story— excerpted in Interview—the teenager turned his family’s world upside down: “Tyrannically presiding over their middle-class home, he slashed screeching chords on his electric guitar, practiced an effeminate way of walking, drew his sister aside in conspiratorial conferences, and threatened to throw the mother of all moodies if everyone didn’t pay complete attention to him. “The Reeds sent Lou to amental institution, believing that treatment there would cure their son of his attitude problems and apparent homosexuality. At Creedmore State Psychiatric Hospital, the troubled teen underwent electroshock therapy; the trauma of this “cure” would never entirely leave him.
Reed attended Syracuse University and later worked as a songwriter for Pickwick Records, gulping amphetamines and trumping up and recording tracks like the alleged dance sensation “The Ostrich.” Yet even as he penned these no-brainers, he was absorbing the most lurid works of literature—including the writings of the notorious Marquis de Sade and Leopold von Sacher-Masoch, the namesakes of sadism and masochism, respectively. Reed’s dark romanticism was profoundly influenced by a unique combination of highbrow underground writings such as these and the yearning teen-aged plaint of early rock and roll—not to mention his own painful experiences.
This feverish sensibility drove The Velvet Underground, the band Reed helped form in the early 1960s with multi-instrumentalist and musical avant-gardist John Cale, guitarist Sterling Morrison, and drummer Moe Tucker.
For the Record…
Born March 2, 1942, in Brooklyn, NY (some sources say Freeport, Long Island, NY); son of Sidney Joseph (an accountant) and Toby (Futterman) Reed; married Betty (a waitress), 1973 (divorced); married Sylvia Morales, 1980 (divorced). Education: B.A., Syracuse University, 1964.
Songwriter, Pickwick Records, New York City, 1965; singer, guitarist, and songwriter for The Velvet Underground, 1965-70; solo recording artist, 1971—; acted in film One Trick Pony, 1980; participated in Amnesty International and Farm Aid benefit concerts, 1985; appeared on television commercials, 1980s; published Between Thought and Expression, Simon & Schuster, 1991; reunited with Velvet Underground for concerts and album, 1993; appeared in film Blue in the Face, 1995.
Selected Awards: Received Best New Poet award, Council of Small Literary Magazines, 1977; Velvet Underground inducted into Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, 1996.
Addresses: Home —New York, NY. Record company—Warner Bros., 75 Rockefeller Plaza, New York, NY 10019-6908.
Thanks to artist-impresario Andy Warhol, the Velvets were able to hone their vision in shows around New York City before recording their debut album with the frosty German chanteuse Nico. Reed songs such as “Venus in Furs” (a fetishistic odyssey that took its title from a Sacher-Masoch novel), “Femme Fatale,” “Heroin,”C“I’m Waiting for My Man,” “White Light/White Heat,” “Sweet Jane,” and many others limned experiences other rock bands wouldn’t touch.
The Velvet Underground’s music, meanwhile, incorporated brutal, primitive rock, aching melodies, experimental noise, spoken-word pieces, and even country-western. Yet the Velvets saw little real success; a cliché of rock has it that only a thousand people listened to the group during its career, but every one of the thousand formed a band. Though exaggerated, this anecdote reflects the influence the band had on the subsequent movements of glam-rock, punk, and alternative rock.
The Velvet Underground disbanded in 1970, and Reed went home to his parents’ house in Long Island. He spent some time recuperating from his tumultuous years with the Velvets—which were marked by drug addiction and sexual anarchy—and worked in an office; eventually, though, he decided to accept a solo recording contract. He released his solo debut in 1972; the following year he married for the first time and released a more successful sophomore effort, Transformer. Produced by Reed devotee and emerging glam-rock phenom David Bowie, the album included the smash hit “Walk on the Wild Side, “a deceptively mellow, jazzy pop song narrating a variety of sexual transformations. “Walk” is undoubtedly Reed’s most commercially successful offering; it became something of an anthem for the decade. The album Sally Can’t Dance, meanwhile, was his most successful in terms of chart action, reaching the Top Ten in the U.S.
Reed released a number of other glam-rocking albums in the 1970s, but he outraged his critics, fans, and especially his record company with Metal Machine Music, a double disc filled with shrill sounds and no songs. Often viewed as an elaborate attempt to get out of his contract with RCA—for which company he released the melodious Coney Island Baby the following year—the 1975 opus stands as one of the more perverse recordings of the modern era, at least by a mainstream artist. In any event, Reed left RCA and signed with Arista; though his albums didn’t sell terribly well, most managed to chart at least briefly.
Having divorced his first wife, Reed married Sylvia Morales in 1980 (they would later divorce as well). After several years of output that thrilled neither critics nor many fans, he assembled a new band—which included guitarist Robert Quine, late of the innovative punk-era band Television, and the virtuosic Fernando Saunders on bass—and released The Blue Mask. According to Natoncritic Gene Santoro, the album “chronicles Reed’s genuinely harrowing descent into the hells of sex-and drug-driven terror, rage and violence, a place nobody else can plumb with his scarred power.” Yet, Santoro lamented, Reed squandered the force of his group and blunted the edge of his writing. “By the time of New Sensations in 1984, Reed had become a self-parodic name-dropper,” the critic averred.
In addition to his solo work, Reed appeared on a multi-artist tribute to German songwriter Kurt Weill, whose dark, often carnivalesque melodies strongly influenced his own work. He also lent his voice to another all-star vehicle, a benefit for the struggle against the racist Apartheid system of South Africa called Sun City. A duet with R&B legend Sam Moore on a remake of the 1960s hit “Soul Man” for the 1987 movie of the same name and an appearance on bassist-producer Rob Wasserman’s anthology recording, Duets, followed.
Yet even as Reed lost some of his credibility among the hipsters who’d been emulating him for years by filming television commercials for motor scooters and credit cards, he created a strong impression with his 1989 album New York, a meditative collection that showed a renewed vitality. He also reunited with Cale for a series of concerts in New York. The death of Warhol, an inspiration and friend to both Reed and Cale, spurred the two to write a suite of songs; this culminated in the 1990 recording Songs for Drella. Reed’s contributions emphasized, among other issues, Warhol’s intense work ethic—and proposed the artist’s need to escape his small-town origins as a partial explanation for his ambition.
The deaths of two other friends, Reed’s Syracuse roommate Lincoln Swados and songwriter extraordinaire Doc Pomus, motivated another album, 1992’s Magic and Loss. (Reed would be dealt another blow in 1995 when his Velvet Underground mate Sterling Morrison succumbed to cancer.) Although its meditations on illness and mortality might seem depressing on the surface, Reed insisted in his press bio, “I think Magic and Loss is a very’up’ album. It makes you feel better because what I gained from what happened to my friends is really very inspirational.” Rolling Stone noted of the disc, “[It] couples Reed’s bravest and most self-revelatory writing with his sparest and least-developed music. Highly charged prose writing, not songwriting, is now his focus.” No doubt some fuel for this hypothesis was provided by the 1991 publication of Between Thought and Expression, an anthology of Reed’s writings.
Esteemed music journalist Kurt Loder, catching up with the singer-songwriter for a 1991 Esquire piece, noted that Reed’s “still-astonishing cult band, The Velvet Underground, has been nominated for the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame (’Can we campaign?’ he asks), but there’ll be no big reunion.” It may have been further reflection on life’s brevity that proved this statement untrue, but whatever the reason, Reed reunited with Cale, Morrison, and Tucker for a series of European concerts in 1993. Sire Records released an undoctored recording of a Paris show titled Live MCMXCIII before the year’s end; David Browne of Entertainment Weekly lauded it as “that rare, and wonderful, beast: a nostalgia-free return to old glories that both recaptures and expands on the tension and beauty that made the Velvet Underground so monumental so long ago.” The album includes “Coyote,” a new Reed-Cale collaboration that Rolling Stone’s Don McLeese felt “could have fit just fine on that third Velvets album while sounding reflective of the maturity these writers have gained over the years.”
Nonetheless, McLeese asserted, “MC/WXC///sidesteps the question of where the Velvets go from here, of what a band that embodied so much experimentation might mean in the middle age of both its members and rock & roll.” The answer came shortly thereafter: true to form, the Velvets broke up again immediately after re-establishing their immense potential. Just as personality conflicts motivated the first breakup, the “maturity” bestowed by the intervening years couldn’t prevent old conflicts from resurfacing. “It was a volatile brew,” eed noted in Musician.” I was happy it made it through Europe in the first place.”
Reed contributed a track to Sweet Relief, a benefit-tribute anthology for Victoria Williams, a singer-songwriter afflicted with multiple sclerosis, and also appeared onstage with her during several of her subsequent performances. “Vic is easily one of the most talented people I’ve ever come in contact with in my life,” he gushed in Musician. He also lent his rendition of the classic Doc Pomus song “This Magic Moment” to the 1995 tribute album Till the Night Is Gone. The following year saw the publication of Bockris’s Transformerbiography; Spin’s Mark Schone noted that the book “tries to answer the question: What makes the father of punk, führer of rock’s most important Underground, such an unmitigated asshole?” According to Schone, Bockris portrays Reed—who cooperated with him—as a manipulative dissembler.
In 1996 the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame at last inducted The Velvet Underground, an event considered long overdue by many in the rock intelligentsia. In February of 1996 Reed released Set the Twilight Reeling, which was notable in part for having been written entirely on a computer. Reed said of the record in Billboard,” I just wanted to rock after’Magic and Loss.’ I didn’t want to put the burden of it having to be thematic on myself, so I told myself,’Just write whatever.’ And if it was connected in any way, that’s OK.” Reed went on to remark of Reeling’s content, much of which continues his exploration of the idea of transformation, “We’re all growing. When we stop growing, that’s the end of it. I’m happy I’m even walking on two legs. Making rock records is kind of too good.”
Lest one despair that Reed had lost some of his trademark malcontent ire, the album featured a track called “Sex with Your Parents (Motherf—er) Part II, “which Billboard’s Melinda Newman described as “a diatribe against right-wing Republicans that postulates that the reason many of them are so uptight is that they had improper liaisons with their parents.” Said Reed of the song, “I hope’Sex with Your Parents’ works its way into the [1996 presidential] election somehow, if nothing else, to mock and ridicule the right-wing Republican fundamentalists who are so abhorrent to every principle of freedom of expression. Nothing could disgust me more.”
Lou Reed’s eccentric career has embraced numerous styles, but his distinctive writing voice has been a constant. Whether pushing the envelope of noise-rock or musing over hushed guitar chords, he has followed only his own inclinations. “I write the albums for myself and I try to make it something I would listen to,” he insisted in his press biography. “I operate under the idea that I’m not unusual. And if I try to do it really well for myself, other people can relate to it, too. But I don’t really know how to write for other people so I can’t do that.”
With the Velvet Underground; on MGM/Verve, except where noted
The Velvet Underground & Nico (includes “Femme Fatale,” “I’m Waiting for My Man,” “Venus in Furs,” and “Heroin”), 1966.
White Light/White Heat (includes “White Light/White Heat”), 1967.
The Velvet Underground, 1969.
Loaded (includes “Sweet Jane”), Cotillion, 1970.
The Velvet Underground Live at Max’s Kansas City, Atlantic, 1972.
1969: The Velvet Underground Live, Mercury, 1974.
VU, Polydor, 1985.
Another View, Polydor, 1986.
Live MCMXCIII (includes “Coyote”), Sire, 1993.
Peel Slowly and See, Polydor Chronicles, 1995.
Solo releases; on RCA, except where noted
Lou Reed, 1972.
Transformer (includes “Walk on the Wild Side”), 1973.
Rock ’N’ Roll Animal, 1974.
Sally Can’t Dance, 1974.
Lou Reed Live, 1975.
Metal Machine Music, 1975.
Coney Island Baby, 1976.
Walk on the Wild Side: The Best of Lou Reed, 1977.
Rock and Roll Heart, Arista, 1976.
Street Hassle, Arista, 1978.
Take No Prisoners, Arista, 1979.
The Bells, Arista, 1979.
Growing Up in Public, Arista, 1980.
Rock and Roll Diary, 1967-80, Arista, 1980.
The Blue Mask, 1982.
Legendary Hearts, 1983.
New Sensations, 1984.
New York, Sire, 1989.
Magic and Loss, Sire, 1992.
Set the Twilight Reeling (includes “Sex with Your Parents (Motherf—er) Part II”), Warner Bros., 1996.
” September Song, “Lost in the Stars: The Music of Kurt Weill, A&M, 1985.
Artists United Against Apartheid, “Sun City, “Manhattan, 1985.
Rob Wasserman, Duets, 1988.
(With John Cale) Songs for Drella, Sire, 1990.
“Tarbelly and Featherfoot, “Sweet Relief: A Benefit for Victoria Williams, Chaos/Sony, 1993.
“This Magic Moment, “Till the Night Is Gone: A Tribute to Doc Pomus, Rhino, 1995.
Rees, Dafydd, and Luke Crampton, Rock Movers & Shakers, Billboard, 1991.
Billboard, January 27, 1996.
Entertainment Weekly, October 29, 1993.
Esquire, November 1991.
Interview, August 1995.
Musician, August 1993; January 1994.
Nation, February 27, 1989.
Rolling Stone, December 10, 1992; April 1, 1993; August 5, 1993; November 25, 1993; January 26, 1995; April 20, 1995.
Spin, September 1995.
Additional information for this profile was obtained from Sire Records publicity materials, 1992.
Singer, songwriter, guitarist
Lou Reed gained limited notoriety in the late 1960’s as the songwriter and guitarist of the Velvet Underground. Unfortunately the group lasted only four years, breaking up in 1970 with the release of their fourth album. Their impact, however, continues as artists like David Bowie and Iggy Pop, virtually the entire punk movement, and many heavy metal bands reflect the Velvet Underground’s influence.
After attending Syracuse University in New York, Reed began writing songs for the Long Island-based Pickwick Records, where he met fellow musician (bass and viola) John Cale; together they formed the Warlocks in 1965. With the addition of guitarist-bassist Sterling Morrison and drummer Maureen Tucker, the group changed their name to the Primitives and later the Falling Spikes. In 1966 they settled on the Velvet Underground a name taken from the title of a pornographic novel. The Group was signed by Verve records and artist Andy Warhol was assigned to produce their first album. Warhol brought in German-born singer Nico to round out the vocals. After recording the album the group toured with Warhol’s multi-media project, The Exploding Plastic Inevitable. Their music was stark in contrast to the hippie-style love songs of the west coast. With subject matter like sadomasochism, drugs and street life played at deafening volumes, the Velvet Underground shocked its audiences.
Warhol and Nico left in 1967 before the group’s second album, White Light/White Heat, which featured the heavy metal sound almost two years before the so-called fathers of the genre, Led Zeppelin, had even formed. The album became a favorite among avant-garde music fans, but was ignored by the general public. Meanwhile, Cale left before the third LP, The Velvet Underground, and was replaced by Doug Yule. Even though their sound mellowed slightly, they were still trapped under the “cult-favorites” category. Ironically, their final studio effort, Loaded, which produced classics like “Sweet Jane” and “Rock and Roll”, sold reasonably well, but Reed had decided to quit the band even before the album was released. Two subsequent live albums were issued after the Velvet Underground’s breakup; of these, 7969 captured an excellent performance in a small Texas club.
After leaving the Velvet Underground, Reed worked for a time with his father’s accounting firm in Long Island, but in 1971 RCA signed him to a solo contract and Reed was off to London to record his self-titled debut LP. Backed by British session musicians, Reed’s work was again ignored by radio stations, but it featured some outstanding writing and depictions of inner-city life. Reed stayed in England and eventually met Bowie, who openly expressed his admiration for Reed’s talents
Real name, Louis Firbank; born March 2, 1942, in Brooklyn, N.Y.; son of Sidney Joseph (an accountant) and Toby (Futterman) Firbank; married Sylvia Morales (second wife), February 14, 1980. Education: Syracuse University, B.A., 1964.
Songwriter, Pickwick Records, New York City, 1965; recording artist, band member, founder of the Velvet Underground, 1966-70; solo recording artist, 1970—; performer, Farm Aid benefit concert, 1985, Amnesty International Tour, 1986; published poet; appeared in motion pictures; member: Musician’s Union Local 802; Screen Actor’s Guild.
Awards: Received Best New Poet award from Council on Small Literary Magazines, 1977.
Addresses: Home —New York, N.Y. Office –c/o Warner Bros. Records, 3300 Warner Blvd., Burbank, Calif. 91510.
and even offered to produce his next record, Transformer, which featured Reed’s well-known song, “Walk on the Wild Side”. Transformer helped to re-establish Reed in the music world and placed him in the public eye, where the dark side of his personality began to emerge. According to The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Rock, “after Transformer he hooked himself firmly into his role as Elder Statesman of Ersatz Decadence and deteriorated at a rapid pace. This was a sobering sight for aficionados: Reed in eye-liner and phantom drag, aping Bowie the disciple of Reed.”
A collage of sex, drugs and death, Reed’s third album, Berlin, sold poorly despite a tour and heavy promotion. Oddly enough, this record, which did so much to harm Reed commercially, also contributed to his ensuing comeback. The 1973 tour to promote Berlin included one of the finest bands ever assembled. With the dual guitars of Steve Hunter and Dick Wagner weaving in and around Reed’s poetry, the tour produced one of the most powerful live albums ever, Rock ’n’ Roll Animal. Another album from the same tour, Lou Reed Live, concentrated on ballads and was released a year later in 1975. Sandwiched between the two live LPs was Sally Can’t Dance, which stereotyped Reed as the “street-poet of rock.” The song “Kill Your Sons” chronicled Reed’s experience during high school when his parents submitted him to electroshock therapy. Although the album climbed to number ten on the charts, it is not regarded by Reed or his fans as one of his better efforts.
In the spring of 1975 Reed unleashed Metal Machine Music on the world. This album was Reed’s powerful commentary on the music industry—four album sides (16:01 each) of what he described in Rolling Stone as “the all-time feedback guitar solo unrestricted by key or tempo.” Needless to say, reviews of the album were extremely positive, but once again Reed seemed to be his own worse enemy, lashing out at anyone who doubted the enormous chip on his shoulder. His verbal battles with the press (who tended to believe Reed’s songs were mostly autobiographical) were by now legendary. In 1976 he told Rolling Stone’s Tim Ferris, “If only they (critics) knew that not only am I such a worthless churl as to write songs about these things, but on top of that, I stole it all. Stole it from people.”
In 1976 Reed ended a short-lived marriage, changed managers and released a new album, Coney Island Baby. With Reed on guitar and piano, it was a mixture of bitter ballads, twisted love songs and restrained rockers. After a switch from the RCA label to Arista, Reed released his seventh studio LP, the directionless and enigmatic Rock and Roll Heart. Playing against a background of television sets, Reed called the Rock and Roll Heart tour a “full-fledged attack, a seething assault. I call it germ warfare. I think of it as the Clearasil on the face of the nation. Jim Morrison would have said that if he was smart, but he’s dead.”
In 1978 Reed released his most honest album up to that point, Street Hassle. Rolling Stone’s Tom Carson wrote, “the recognition of his own self-destruction has been made integral to Street Hassle’s concept, and the effect is double edged; as we respond to the album’s excellence, we are never allowed to forget just how much it cost.” The public was finally starting to see the true Lou Reed.
Things would get even better on his 1979 album, The Bells, which contained three songs co-written by guitarist Nils Lofgren. The late critic Lester Bangs compared The Bells to Van Morrison’s Astral Weeks and the Rolling Stones’Exile on Main Street, calling it “great art.” In the next four years Reed released three more fine albums, Growing Up In Public, The Blue Mask, and Legendary Hearts. He summed this trio up as “… the absolute end of everything from the Velvet Underground up.” He began to take a brighter outlook on life and his next two albums, New Sensations and Mistrial, contained up-tempo songs and a happier Lou Reed.
Reed played all six dates on the 1986 Amnesty International tour and was also a contributor to the Artists Against Apartheid Sun City record. It seems as if Reed has finally come clean (he even did ads for Honda scooters) but with such a complex personality, it’s hard to tell where he’ll be next. As Rolling Stone’s Billy Altman wrote, “One’s opinion of Reed’s solo work changes constantly, because his constant shifts of stance and style continually confound any sense of perspective.”
Lou Reed, RCA, 1972.
Transformer, RCA, 1972.
Berlin, RCA, 1973.
Rock ‘N’ Roll Animal, RCA, 1974.
Sally Can’t Dance, RCA, 1974.
Lou Reed Live, RCA, 1975.
Metal Machine Music, RCA, 1975.
Coney Island Baby, RCA, 1976.
Rock and Roll Heart, Arista, 1976.
Take No Prisoners—Lou Reed Live, Arista, 1978.
Street Hassle, Arista, 1978.
The Bells, Arista, 1979.
Growing Up In Public, Arista, 1980.
The Blue Mask, Arista, 1982.
Legendary Hearts, Arista, 1983.
New Sensations, RCA, 1984.
Mistrial, RCA, 1984.
New York, Warner Bros., 1988.
Also appeared on several recordings with the Velvet Underground, including:
The Velvet Underground and Nico, Verve, 1967. The Velvet Underground, MGM, 1969. Loaded, Cotillion, 1970.
Christgau, Robert, Christgau’s Record Guide, Ticknor & Fields, 1981.
Dalton, David and Kaye, Lenny, Rock 100, Grosset & Dunlap, 1977.
The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Rock, Harmony, 1977.
The Rolling Stone Record Guide, edited by Dave Marsh and John Swenson, Random House/Rolling Stone Press, 1979.
Rolling Stone, March 25, 1976; April 8, 1976; September 23, 1976; December 2, 1976; April 6, 1978; February 6, 1979; March 22, 1979; June 14, 1979; August 23, 1979; September 25, 1986.
—Calen D. Stone
Genre: Rock, Pop
Best-selling album since 1990: Magic and Loss (1992)
Lou Reed is a pivotal figure in the creation of the New York rock sound. As a founding member of the Velvet Underground in the 1960s, he chronicled that decade with songs that journeyed into the worlds of drugs and sexual hedonism. His bleak urban street tales countered the sunny optimism associated with the psychedelic scene blossoming on the West Coast with bands like Jefferson Airplane and the Grateful Dead. Reed's primitive song structures, groove talking vocals, and experiments with white noise cemented his image as the original art rock hipster. Even though the Velvet Underground was never commercially successful, it proved greatly influential. Reed's solo career was marked by sharp turns in image and musical style. He entered the 1990s on the heels of New York (1989), a critically praised comeback.
Reed grew up in Long Island, New York, and moved to Manhattan after college to pursue a career as a songwriter and a poet. In 1964 he met John Cale, a classically trained violinist. After recruiting drummer Moe Tucker and bassist Sterling Morrison, a year later the group met Andy Warhol, a founder and major figure in the pop art movement. Warhol became their manager. He added singer/actress Nico to the band and pushed them to explore more primitive themes. The band's best work utilized minimal chords and tempos. It spoke of alienation and the discord of modern urban life. The Velvet Underground's albums sold poorly but are now considered ahead of their time, foretelling the abrasion and stripped-down ethos that would define punk rock.
Reed's solo career began in 1971. His debut, Transformer (1972), produced "Walk on the Wild Side," his only Top 20 single. Over the years, he would prove to be rock's most reliable chameleon, changing his public image as much as he did the music he made. Reed's subsequent albums included heavy-metal, commercial pop, glam rock, singer/songwriter folk, and grating electronic noise. By the time the 1980s rolled around he was touted as an innovator by bands including Sonic Youth and R.E.M. Reed kicked off the third chapter in his career with New York (1989), a gritty but accessible collection of songs that assessed the problems plaguing his hometown in recent years: the AIDS crisis, racism, and homelessness. New York signaled Reed's renewed viability and it was his first Top 40 album in fifteen years.
Reed entered the 1990s an established icon. He and Cale reunited to release Songs for Drella (1990), which they dedicated to Warhol who died in 1987. He organized a reunion of the Velvet Underground, which toured Europe and recorded a live album. Back in the United States, the band dissolved a second time after a dispute over who would produce their upcoming MTV Unplugged special, which was promptly cancelled. Upon their induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1996, they reunited a second time to play the ceremony.
By this time, Reed assumed the role of an art rock intellectual who demonstrated that dark and complex sentiments can be expressed clearly using the basic framework of two guitars, bass, and drums. He published two books of his lyrics over the years and went on spoken word tours. He also made some of his most harrowing music. Magic and Loss (1992) contemplated mortality and the many dimensions of loss. Tapping into both pain and humor, the album is considered one of Reed's best. Although Set the Twilight Reeling (1996) moved in a nostalgic pop direction, he returned to making raw rock music with Ecstasy (2000). Horns, electric violin, and a massive amount of guitar distortion complement the despair, rage, and overt sexuality in the lyrics.
The Raven (2003), released both as a single and double album, was originally conceived as companion music to POE-try, a theater project with stage director Robert Wilson. It married Reed's bleak vision with the writings of Edgar Allan Poe, an American writer who greatly influenced the French symbolist poets. The album features Reed originals and Poe's fiction and poetry read by actors and set to music. The sparse production, backdrop of distorted guitar and electronics, and mixture of overlapping voices are all ratcheted high with the dramatic tension of a surreal radio play. The album was considered a fascinating, if peculiar, musical journey.
Reed elevated hedonism to high art. As the founder and lead singer of the Velvet Underground, he used rock music to find the poetry in modern-day misery and urban decay. Throughout his unpredictable career, he relentlessly explored new styles in a multitude of genres.
Transformer (MCA, 1972); Berlin (RCA, 1973); Sally Can't Dance (RCA, 1974); Metal Machine Music (RCA, 1975); Street Hassle (Arista, 1978); The Blue Mask (RCA, 1982); New York (Sire, 1989); Magic and Loss (Sire, 1992); Set the Twilight Reeling (Reprise, 1996); Perfect Night Live in London (Reprise, 1998); Ecstasy (Reprise, 2000); The Raven (Reprise, 2003).
REED, LOU (Lewis Allen ; 1942– ), U.S. guitarist, songwriter, founder of the influential art rock band The Velvet Underground; often referred to as the "Godfather of Punk." Born into a middle-class Jewish family in Freeport, New York, Reed played guitar in several high school bands. He attended Syracuse University, but dropped out after two years and moved to New York City, where he became a songwriter for Pickwick records. There, Reed met John Cale, with whom he formed The Primitives, a band which evolved to become The Velvet Underground in 1964. Later managed by Andy Warhol, The Velvet Underground was considered ground-breaking for their lyrical tales of urban decay, heroin addiction, and social realism, as well as for their droning sound and experiments in noise. Although the band was never a commercial success, The Velvet Underground is considered one of the most influential rock bands of all time. Reed left the band in 1970, and after spending a short musical hiatus working for his father's Long Island accounting firm, he released an eponymous solo album that was mostly rehashed Velvet Underground tunes. It wasn't until Reed recruited David Bowie and Mick Ronson to produce his 1972 album Transformer that Reed achieved widespread success: a Top-20 hit in the U.S., and a Top-Ten hit in the U.K. for "Walk on the Wild Side," a tribute song to the transsexuals, misfits, and hustlers at Andy Warhol's Factory. Reed followed Transformer with Berlin, which though artistically impressive, failed to make a mark commercially. Reed, who adopted a public persona of an androgynous junkie, followed Berlin with Rock and Roll Animal and Sally Can't Dance, both albums aimed at commercial success, and then in 1975, Metal Machine Music, a double album of pure guitar feedback. As Reed wrestled with drug and alcohol problems, his releases, while prolific, remained inconsistent. On 1976's Rock and Roll Heart, Reed delivered an album of pure guitar pop, only to follow up with raw punk on 1978's Street Hassle. The 1980s saw a sober, drug-free, and more focused Reed releasing critically acclaimed albums such as 1983's The Blue Mask and 1989's New York, a love letter and sharp criticism of the state of his adored city. After a 25-year estrangement, Reed reunited with John Cale in 1990 and released Songs for Drella, a musical biography and tribute to Andy Warhol. The Velvet Underground temporarily reunited in 1993. Reed and his bandmates from The Velvet Underground were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1996.
[Harry Rubenstein (2nd ed.)]