Culture

Lou Reed, Lead Singer of Velvet Undergound, Dies at 71

The musician and his New York band influenced generations of bands with a mixture of European and US styles of sound and art.

Photo Credit: Wikimedia/ Creative Commons

Lou Reed, lead singer of the Velvet Underground, chronicler of life's wild side and one of the most influential and distinctive songwriters of his generation has died at the age of 71.

Although the cause of his death has not been announced, Reed had been suffering from liver failure and received a transplant earlier this year.

The news was confirmed on Sunday evening by his UK music agent. "Yes I'm afraid it's true," Andy Woolliscroft told the Guardian. "I'm very upset."

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Tributes were quick to appear on Twitter.

Iggy Pop called it "devastating news"; Kim Godron of Sonic Youth wrote: "So sorry to hear of Lou Reed's passing this is a huge shock!"

The chef and writer Anthony Bourdain quoted the Velvet Underground's Sweet Jane: "'Heavenly wine and roses … seem to whisper to me … when you smile' .. RIP Lou Reed."

Lloyd Cole wrote, "Without Lou there is no Bowie as we know him. Me? I'd probably be a maths teacher". Ryan Adams said only: "Lou Reed."

Fans wrote also piled on to Reed's Facebook page to leave their own messages.

"One of the greatest men I ever met and one of the kindest and most loving-- and that's from someone who worked with him and knew him since the 1960s," wrote Howie Klein.

Another, John Priddle, wrote: "A sad day, not a perfect day at all. RIP., Lou. You'll never know what your words and music did for me and what an influence you had on the way I think."

Although the Velvet Underground never achieved great commercial success, their idosyncratic combination of harsh guitars and smooth melodies sung by Reed or the German model Nico proved enduring.

The band has long been recognizsd as a major musical influence on punk and art rock, as reflected in a quote often attributed to musician Brian Eno: "The first Velvet Underground album only sold 10,000 copies, but everyone who bought it formed a band."

After making his name with the Velvet Underground and becoming part of Andy Warhol's Factory scene in New York, Reed went on to record a series of seminal and sometimes challenging solo albums including Transformer, Berlin and Metal Machine Music.

Reed, a hard drinker and drug user for many years, Reed underwent a liver transplant earlier this year at the Cleveland Mayo Clinic.

In June, his wife, Laurie Anderson, revealed just how ill he had been. "It's as serious as it gets," she told the Times. "He was dying. You don't get it for fun."

Despite the seriousness of his illness, however, Reed had appeared to make a rapid recovery. "I am a triumph of modern medicine, physics and chemistry," Reed wrote on his website a few weeks after his surgery.

"I am bigger and stronger than ever. My Chen Taiji and health regimen has served me well all of these years … I look forward to being on stage performing, and writing more songs to connect with your hearts and spirits and the universe well into the future." But he also admitted that old age was taking its toll on his body.

Appearing at the Cannes Lions internationalfestival of creativity four months ago, Reed remarked on his increasing frailty.

"How could time go that quickly? It never ceases to amaze me," he said. "The other day I was 19, I could fall down and get back up.

"Now if I fall down you are talking about nine months of physical therapy, make sure you take your vitamins. Is he OK?"

However, he also found time to rail against the quality of digital music – which he said "sounds like shit" – and at the amount of money artists received for music downloads.

Neither age nor illness succeeded in blunting Reed's confrontational edge. Reacting to the details of the NSA surveillance programme revealed by the whistleblower Edward Snowden, he said it was "beyond belief" that the 29-year-old had access to the information and was able to release it.

"Wow. Does that speak well for our security or what?" he said. "It's so shocking. Obama of all people having that thing going on ... That's our guy who did that. It's very disturbing. A lot of the things [George W] Bush would have done, Obama has continued. How did that happen?"

Reed, whose lack of patience with the press was legendary, could not resist laying into the "parasitical side" of journalists who were, he said, "very problematic. What they really want is something controversial".

Asked by one reporter how he stayed creative, he shot back: "How do I stay creative? I masturbate every day. OK?"

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