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Rolling Stone reports Lou Reed, a massively influential songwriter and guitarist who helped shape  nearly fifty years of rock music, died today. The cause of his death has not yet  been released, but Reed  underwent a liver transplant in May.

Look back at Lou Reed's remarkable career in photos

With the Velvet Underground in the late Sixties, Reed fused street-level  urgency with elements of European avant-garde music, marrying beauty and noise,  while bringing a whole new lyrical honesty to rock & roll poetry. As a  restlessly inventive solo artist, from the Seventies into the 2010s, he was  chameleonic, thorny and unpredictable, challenging his fans at every turn. Glam,  punk and alternative rock are all unthinkable without his revelatory example.  "One chord is fine," he once said, alluding to his bare-bones guitar style. "Two  chords are pushing it. Three chords and you're into jazz."

Lewis Allan "Lou" Reed was born in Brooklyn, in 1942. A fan of  doo-wop and early rock & roll (he movingly inducted Dion into the Rock and  Roll Hall of Fame in 1989), Reed also took formative inspiration during his  studies at Syracuse University with the poet Delmore Schwartz. After college, he  worked as a staff songwriter for the novelty label Pickwick Records (where he  had a minor hit in 1964 with a dance-song parody called "The Ostrich"). In the  mid-Sixties, Reed befriended Welsh musician John Cale, a classically trained  violist who had performed with groundbreaking minimalist composer La Monte  Young. Reed and Cale formed a band called the Primitives, then changed their  name to the Warlocks. After meeting guitarist Sterling Morrison and drummer  Maureen Tucker, they became the Velvet Underground. With a stark sound and  ominous look, the band caught the attention of Andy Warhol, who incorporated the  Velvets into his Exploding Plastic Inevitable. "Andy would show his movies on  us," Reed said. "We wore black so you could see the movie. But we were all  wearing black anyway."

"Produced" by Warhol and met with total commercial indifference when it was  released in early 1967, VU’s debut The Velvet Underground & Nico stands as a landmark on par with the Beatles' Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts  Club Band and Bob Dylan's Blonde On Blonde. Reed's matter-of-fact  descriptions of New York’s bohemian demimonde, rife with allusions to drugs and  S&M, pushed beyond even the Rolling Stones’ darkest moments, while the heavy  doses of distortion and noise for its own sake revolutionized rock guitar. The  band’s three subsequent albums – 1968’s even more corrosive sounding White  Light/White Heat, 1969’s fragile, folk-toned The Velvet  Underground and 1970’s Loaded, which despite being recorded while  he was leaving the group, contained two Reed standards, “Rock & Roll” and  “Sweet Jane,” were similarly ignored. But they’d be embraced by future  generations, cementing the Velvet Underground’s status as the most influential  American rock band of all time.   

Read Rolling Stone's 1989 Lou Reed cover story

After splitting with the Velvets in 1970, Reed traveled to England and, in  characteristically paradoxical fashion, recorded a solo debut backed by members  of the progressive-rock band Yes. But it was his next album, 1972’s  Transformer, produced by Reed-disciple David Bowie, that pushed him  beyond cult status into genuine rock stardom. “Walk On the Wild Side,” a loving  yet unsentimental evocation of Warhol’s Factory scene, became a radio hit  (despite its allusions to oral sex) and “Satellite of Love” was covered by U2  and others. Reed spent the Seventies defying expectations almost as a kind of  sport. 1973’s Berlin was brutal literary bombast while 1974’s Sally  Can’t Dance had soul horns and flashy guitar. In 1975 he released Metal  Machine Music, a seething all-noise experiment his label RCA marketed as a  avant-garde classic music, while 1978’s banter-heavy live album Take No  Prisoners was a kind of comedy record in which Reed went on wild  tangents and savaged rock critics by name (“Lou sure is adept at figuring out  new ways to shit on people,” one of those critics, Robert Christgau,  wrote at the time). Explaining his less-than-accommodating career  trajectory, Reed told journalist Lester Bangs, “My bullshit is worth more than  other people’s diamonds.”

Reed’s ambiguous sexual persona and excessive drug use throughout the  Seventies was the stuff of underground rock myth. But in the Eighties, he began  to mellow. He married Sylvia Morales and opened a window into his new married  life on 1982’s excellent The Blue Mask, his best work since  Transformer. His 1984 album New Sensations took a more  commercial turn and 1989’s New York ended the decade with a set of  funny, politically cutting songs that received universal critical praise. In  1991, he collaborated with Cale on Songs For Drella, a tribute to  Warhol. Three years later, the Velvet Underground reunited for a series of  successful European gigs.  

Reed and Morales divorced in the early Nineties. Within a few years, Reed  began a relationship with musician-performance artist Laurie Anderson. The two  became an inseparable New York fixture, collaborating and performing live  together, while also engaging in civic and environmental activism. They were  married in 2008.

Reed continued to follow his own idiosyncratic artistic impulses throughout  the ‘00s. The once-decadent rocker became an avid student of T'ai Chi, even  bringing his instructor onstage during concerts in 2003. In 2005 he released a  double CD called The Raven, based on the work of Edgar Allen Poe. In  2007, he released an ambient album titled Hudson River Wind  Meditations. Reed returned to mainstream rock with 2011’s Lulu, a  collaboration with Metallica.

“All through this, I’ve always thought that if you thought of all of it as a  book then you have the Great American Novel, every record as a chapter,” he told  Rolling Stone in 1987. “They’re all in chronological order. You  take the whole thing, stack it and listen to it in order, there’s my Great  American Novel.” 


Read more at Loudwire, Ultimate Classic Rock, NoisecreepClassic Rock, Billboard and NME

Check out rocker reactions at BlabbermouthLoudwire, Ultimate Classic Rock, Rolling Stone, Billboard and NME

Ultimate Classic Rock posts the 10 best Velvet Underground songs and Lou Reed songs  Rolling Stone posts 20 essential Lou Reed tracks

Rolling Stone posts Flashback: Lou Reed, John Cale and Nico reunite in 1972  Read more at Billboard\

Billboard reports Lou Reed's "Perfect" Billboard chart history

Billboard reports the many lives of Lou Reed's "Sweet Jane"

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