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Culture

Velvet Underground front man Lou Reed dies

One of the most influential figures in rock music, the guitarist, singer and former Velvet Underground front man Lou Reed has died at the age of 71.

Lou Reed's literary agent released a statement confirming the singer had died on October 27 of liver disease at his Long Island home after several months of ill health.

A self-confessed hard drinker and drug user, Reed underwent a liver transplant in May this year.

Self-taught rocker

Reed was born Lewis Allan Reed on March 2, 1942 and grew up in Freeport, Long Island. He developed an interest in rock ‘n’ roll and rhythm and blues and learned to play guitar by listening to the radio.

By the early 60s, he was studying journalism and creative writing at Syracuse University as well as hosting a late night show on local radio named “Excursions on a Wobbly Rail.”

Black and white photo of US singer Lou Reed performing at the open air stage in Stockholm on August 12, 1977. (Photo: STRINGER/AFP/Getty Images)

Reed made no secret of his early addiction to drugs and alcohol

In 1964, Reed began working as an in-house songwriter for Pickwick Records and scored a minor hit with “The Ostrich,” a novelty song.

The group assembled to promote the single included Welsh musician John Cale who was impressed with Reed’s droning approach to guitar playing.

Velvet Underground and the peak

Reed and Cale formed the Velvet Underground and the band was soon incorporated into pop artist Andy Warhol’s multimedia events called “Exploding Plastic Inevitable.” Although commercially unsuccessful in their day, the Velvet Underground proved to be massively influential.

Speaking of their 1967 release, "The Velvet Underground & Nico," musician Brian Eno famously said the album “only sold 10,000 copies, but everyone who bought it formed a band.”

Reed quit the Velvet Underground in 1970 and signed with RCA Records in 1971.

Iconic banana album cover of The Velvet Underground and Nico

Reed found fame in the 1960s with the iconic group The Velvet Underground, in association with pop artist Andy Warhol

The following year he released “Transformer,” co-produced by David Bowie and Mick Ronson and featuring the hit singles “Walk on the Wild Side” and “Perfect Day.” The album, regarded as a rock classic today, was to be Reed’s commercial and critical peak.

“Transformer” was followed by “Berlin,” a tragic concept album dealing with themes of domestic violence, depression and drug use. It received lukewarm reviews on release in 1973, and the harsh critical reception meant Reed seldom played tracks from it in concert.

Mixed success

1975’s “Metal Machine Music,” over an hour of over-modulated feedback and guitar effects, continued to alienate Reed’s fan base. Critics expressed dismay and viewed the record as a grudging fulfillment of a contractual obligation.

Throughout the 80s and 90s, Reed would go on to record a further 20 albums to mixed critical and commercial success and by the 2000s was still active in the music industry recording vocals with artists such as The Killers and Gorillaz and in 2007 releasing an album of Tai Chi meditation music, “Hudson River Wind Meditations.”

Online tributes

Wife Laurie Anderson, performing with her husband in Frankfurt, 2009. Photo: Uwe Anspach dpa/lhe (c) dpa - Report

Reed married fellow performer Laurie Anderson in 2008

Since the announcement of his death on Sunday, tributes have poured in on social media platforms from friends and colleagues including Iggy Pop, Lenny Kravitz and Salman Rushdie.

David Bowie posted on Facebook that “he was a master,” while former Velvet Underground bandmate John Cale said, “The world has lost a fine songwriter and poet… I’ve lost my schoolyard buddy.”

In summing up his long and diverse career, British music journalist Charles Shaar Murray pointed to Reed’s time with the Velvet Underground. In an interview with BBC Radio he said Reed "completely changed the cultural landscape we inhabit."

Reed is survived by his second wife, musician and performance artist Laurie Anderson. The two were married in 2008.

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