Artist of the Week: Lou Reed
Lou Reed (1942-2013) was one of the most influential American rock musician and songwriters, not only as the singer, guitarist and main songwriter of The Velvet Underground in the late 60s and early 70s, but as an always fascinating and unpredictable solo artist. Rock’n’roll, as we know it today, wouldn’t be the same without his contribution: he helped shape nearly fifty years of music. Think of one pop act that you like and chances are they were either influenced or at least admired Lou Reed’s work.
In an age where success is measured by YouTube views and social media trends, one may find hard to understand how someone who rarely knew commercial success (1972’s “Walk on the Wild Side” was his only single to chart the Billboard 100) could be so significant for several generations of rock fans and musicians. Lou Reed was an inspiration for glam and indie rockers and a major influence for both punks and metalheads. In fact, his artistic vision knew no musical or thematic barriers: not only did he explore several genres, from straight Rock’n’roll and pure romantic balladry to avant-garde noise and ambient music, as he was one of the first to introduce homosexuality, suicidal depression and drug abuse themes into rock’n’roll vocabulary. He also managed to somehow epitomize coolness throughout half century without following any trends. Whether next to Andy Warhol at The Factory or sharing his urban wisdom in Wayne Wang and Paul Auster’s Blue in the Face (1995), his trademark leather jacket, T-Shirt and dark sunglasses never felt “démodé”. In fact, to pass away was, probably, the first uncool thing he ever did in his life.
From The Velvet Underground stellar records and absolute classics such as 1972’s Transformer, 1982’s Blue Mask and 1989’s New York to his most defiant and bold efforts such as 1975’s Metal Machine Music or his 2011’s collaboration with Metallica Lulu, Lou Reed’s career has no shortage of reasons for people from all around the world to keep doing what they have done in the last fifty years: listen to his songs. A better way to celebrate his life is yet to be found.
João Pedro da Costa is a web studies scholar and a music fan.