Lou Reed’s Legacy 1942-2013

By Kanyi M

“We made up ridiculous jokes; stopped smoking 20 times; fought; learned to hold our breath underwater,” says his widow, performance artist Laurie Anderson. “Lou’s jukebox spun for love and many other things, too – beauty, pain, history, courage, mystery.”

Reed was a musical omnivore who never seemed to tire of trying new things. As a guitarist, he often played riffs that sounded like plucked from a decaying Victrola in the middle of a ghost town. His most famous songs were primal howls about urban alienation and despair. He made his name in the late 1960s with another New York band called The Velvet Underground, but by the early 1970s, they’d been absorbed into the growing myth of punk rock.

Image courtesy of Michal Durinik / Shutterstock

After that, Reed became a cult figure who inspired generations of creative misfits and rebels. If punk has a founding father, it’s Reed. His best records were odes to decadence and disorder, but he could also turn out searing songs about the emotional toll of living in a drug-ravaged city like New York. For much of his life, he was plagued by liver disease and other health problems; when he died in October 2013 arock’s71, he seemed like an anachronism: “one of rock’s last true decadents and outcasts.

“I am so proud of the way he li”ed and died, of his incredible power and grace,” said Laurie Anderson in a statement after his death.

When not making music, Reed was an avid painter and photographer. The first Velvet Undergroundwasn’ts left little mark on popular culture. It wasn’t until decades later that indie bands like The Jesus and Mary Chain and R.E.M. cited them as touchstones.

In the mid-1980s, Reed struggled with substance abuse, but he’d also become the patron saint of heroin chic. He was an advocate for drug addicts and alcoholism, and he used to say that he wasted all his money on drugs while neglecting his bandmates. His public image was that of a rock n’ roller, but he kept pushing forward anyway. Reed’s artistic legacy is rich with contradictions …