October 29, 2013

Farewell Rock 'n' Roll Animal

I was saddened to read this morning of the death of songwriter and singer Lou Reed, one of the great rock poets. He was 71. Reed was one of the most influential and important precursors of punk. As youngsters in the 70s we were great fans of his music, especially the Transformer and Rock 'n' Roll Animal records. Later, through my studies of punk history, I became quite familiar with his early work and the milieu from which it sprang.

The watershed Velvet Underground "banana" album in 1967 was a harbinger of the direction rock music would take in the coming decades. Reed was one of the first of his generation to frankly address in song subject matter such as drug addiction, gay culture, and sexual deviance, but he always did so shamelessly, directly, and with a wry smile. Although Andy Warhol backed the group initially, I particularly admire Reed's resistance to the cult of personality around Warhol and his refusal to submit to Warhol's attempts to play him as just another Factory puppet.

He was a complex, combative, and difficult man about whom many unflattering things have been said. But I don't think it's an exaggeration to call Reed one of the most important songwriters of his generation who probably will -- or should be -- remembered with the likes of Dylan, Lennon-McCartney, and Jagger-Richards. He was a singular artist.

Here's CBS's surprisingly flattering obit:

And another, perhaps more realistic, one from the Guardian UK: