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Lou Reed (born March 2, 1942) is an American rock artist originally from Brooklyn, New York. Especially while a member of the The Velvet Underground in the 1960s, Reed broke new ground for the rock genre in several important dimensions, introducing more mature and intellectual themes to what was then considered a largely simplistic genre of music.
Reed first found prominence as the guitarist and principal singer-songwriter of The Velvet Underground. The band, which lasted from 1965 until 1973 (with Reed departing in late 1970 after the Loaded sessions), gained relatively little notice during its life but is often considered the seed from which most alternative and underground traditions of rock music sprang. As the Velvet’s songwriter, Reed wrote about such taboo subjects as S&M (Venus In Furs), transvestites and transsexuals (Sister Ray, and Lady Godiva’s Operation), prostitution (There She Goes Again), and drug addiction (I’m Waiting For The Man, White Light/White Heat, Heroin).
As a guitarist, he made innovative use of abrasive distortion, volume-driven feedback, and nonstandard tunings. Reed’s flat, New York voice, stripped of superficial emotions and, like Bob Dylan’s, flaunting its lack of conventional training, was no less important to the music’s radical effect. One of rock’s most volatile personalities, Reed made inconsistent albums that frustrated critics. The reputation he established more than forty years ago with The Velvet Underground has both haunted and elevated him to near-mythic stature.
Reed began a long and varied solo career in 1972. He scored a hit that year with Walk On The Wild Side off the Bowie-produced Transformer. For more than a decade he then seemed purposely to evade mainstream commercial success. Transformer was followed by the dark and challenging Berlin, an album that shed his fan base just as he’d cultivated it.
Albums such as the one-take low-ball wonder Sally Can’t Dance and Metal Machine Music continued his nose-thumbing at mainstream success and his label. Metal Machine Music, upon which Reed later commented, “no one is supposed to be able to do a thing like that and survive.”, although considered a contract-fulfilling joke upon its release, has been widely recognized as the invention of “noise music,” and many artists, such as Japan’s Merzbow have regarded it as a pioneering classic.
Despite his best efforts, the 70’s were not without artistically and commercially successful albums. He had a major success with the live Rock ‘n Roll AnimalLP, recorded following the release of Transformer, which received vast FM airplay in the mid-to late ’70s due in no small part to the superb guitar solos of Steve Hunter. Coney Island Baby contained some of the best written and performed songs in Reed’s oeuvre and Street Hassle saw Reed brave new-wave stylings.
Rock and Rule, an animated film centered around rock music in a post - apocalyptic future, featured music by Reed and other similar artists. His contribution vividly helped define the evil character Mok, and reflected his ongoing exploration of dark subjects. Although released within a couple of years of another animation cult classic, Heavy Metal, the 1983 release of R&R was a commercial failure. Despite the advanced animation, lack of marketing support by the parent company doomed it. The movie was relegated to late - night cable TV, where it built a small but persistent fan base.
Despite erratic turns, Reed’s work won him wide recognition by the late 1980s as an essential elder statesman of rock. For decades he has written about intense subjects including heroin, transexuals, and S&M - not to mention the horror stories on Berlin - which had never been presented in rock and roll before. The industry had matured, to the extent that his commercial position as an “art rocker” was secure.
Reed has lived in New York City for most of his life and much of his music evokes the city, earning the singer comparisons (which he has encouraged) to William Faulkner and James Joyce as writers of regional interest. He also cites the poet Delmore Schwartz as a great influence. Reed studied creative writing under Schwartz at Syracuse University in the early 60s. The song My House tells the story of a Ouija board which spells out Delmore, and how this event inspired Reed.
Lou Reed teamed up with The Killers on the track Tranquilize for their new compilation album Sawdust, which was released on November 13, 2007.
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