By John Held, Jr.
Lou Reed died at the Long Island, New York, home he shared with his wife, Laurie Anderson, Sunday, October 27, at age 71 from complications relating to a liver transplant undergone earlier this year. He was a musician who had a broad influence on a number of artistic fields. Reed was one of those cult figures that never gained widespread acceptance, but garnered profound respect among his peers and succeeding generations of musicians. Born in New York, Reed remained the quintessential city hipster; courted by Warhol, mentor to emerging punk and glam scenes, and collaborator with one of the more popular figures in contemporary performance art.
I always saw Lou Reed as the dark side of the hippie invasion in the Sixties. While everyone else was busy being mellow, musician Reed with John Cale, Nico and the Velvet Underground were reflecting on heroin use and various walks on the wild side. Capturing the attention of Andy Warhol, they became the house band for the Floating Plastic Inevitable, which ushered in an altered era after the waning of the hippie invasion – darker edged with a touch of disco frivolity. His was one of the first collaborations between the pop music and the fine art worlds. The 1966 and 1967 collaborations with Warhol and company mixed avant-garde, yet approachable music, with light shows and dancers (including Edie Sedgwick) resulting in above ground attention.
Reed continued to collaborate with performance artist Laurie Anderson, who he married in 2008. Anderson was an underground performance artist in the late Sixties and Seventies, who performed in such alternative venues as Franklin Furnace. In 1981 she had a mega hit with “O Superman,” which raced towards the top of the charts in England and the United States. She continues to be a leading presence in the electronic music scene.
Reed and Anderson began collaborating in the late Nineties, with Anderson contributing to Reed’s project “The Raven,” and adding to several tracks on his “Ecstasy” and “Set the Twilight Reeling” recordings. In return, Reed contributed to Anderson’s “Bright Red,” and “Life on a String,” albums.
Brought up in the New York suburbs, he underwent electroconvulsive therapy as a teenager – his parents trying to cure him of his bisexuality. Reed was a graduate of Syracuse University in 1964. He credits his study under poet Delmore Schwartz as a decisive factor in his growth as an artist. After graduation Reed moved to New York and began playing music with John Cale, who had previously studied under avant-garde musician LaMonte Young, who had exerted a powerful influence on the formation of the Fluxus art movement.
Soaking up the avant-garde lessons taken from Schwartz, Cale,Warhol and Young, Reed, in turn, influenced a young David Bowie, who co-produced Reeds 1972 album, “Transformer,” which included the hit single, “Walk on the Wild Side.” Bowie is quoted as saying after having been introduced to Reed’s music, “I had never heard anything quite like it. It was a revelation to me.”
Although he had his fair share of successful ventures, Reed seemed to follow them up with experimental projects, which had the critics second-guessing themselves – and Reed. As an artist, he walked wild in unexplored territories, and as his marriage to Laurie Anderson exemplified, he succeeded in integrating the avant-garde within the broader popular culture.