Ladies and gentlemen, Lou Reed is dead and with him so is the last visage of poetic punk rock. A Brooklynite by birth, Reed had a comfortable upbringing like many of his suburban neighbors in Long Island, but longed to be free from the authority and rules stipulated by society, Reed revolted against everything during most of his adolescent years. Out of options, his parents even sent him to receive electroshock therapy at Creedmoor State Psychiatric Hospital in Queens, the same institution where folk singer Woody Guthrie spent his last days. It wasn’t until his years at Syracuse University that Reed carved out a path from his emotional turmoil. Through his classes with poet and writer Delmore Schwartz, Reed found ways to express his grievances with society through the art of writing. Later, he honored his late mentor with “European Son” (1966), “My House” (1982), and a poem in Poetry magazine last year.
In the years after, Reed found himself as a songwriter for record label Pickwick International. He also befriended several likeminded musicians, including John Cale, Sterling Morrison, and Maureen Tucker. The quartet came to be known as The Velvet Underground, named after an expose on sexual decadence by British journalist Michael Leigh. Their raw anthems of life on the edge gained the attention of Andy Warhol, who incorporated their music into his Exploding Plastic Inevitable multimedia show. Realizing commercial success was elusive even with help from Warhol, the band members went separate ways by the end of the 1960s. But Reed’s solo career received a boost during the ‘70s from an unlikely source: glam-rock king David Bowie. Having long been a fan, Bowie and collaborator Mick Ronson produced Reed’s Transformer in 1972, which featured the catchy hit single, ”Walk on the Wild Side.”
Just like many of the protagonists in his songs, Reed was more comfortable among the drug addicts and hookers than hobnobbing with fellow rock stars. Like a true New Yorker, he was edgy and blunt with his criticisms, yet generous with his time and support of fellow artists. Though he never found large, mainstream success during the early part of his career, Reed became somewhat of a spokesperson for his generation in the last three decades (i.e. his 2009 collaboration with Supreme). He continued to produce music as well, even collaborating with heavy metal band Metallica in 2011 for one of his final studio albums, Lulu. After years of liver ailments, Reed received a transplant earlier this year at the Cleveland Clinic. Sadly, the transplant couldn’t alleviate his disease. Lewis Allan “Lou” Reed passed away yesterday at the age of 71 in Southampton, New York. Ever the rebel, Reed’s doctor said the artist was doing Tai Chi routines to the very end.