On Sunday, October 27, 2013, the man named Lou Reed, credited with many things related to rock and roll (all of the credits depend on your points of view), died at the age of 71. Earlier this year, Reed underwent a liver transplant and seemed to be in better health because of it. Whether or not his passing is a result of that ailment matters not. The fact remains that one of the most influential individuals in the annals of rock and roll has departed, leaving us with a legacy that few can match.
Lou Reed began his career with the vibrant and dark Velvet Underground in New York City. Joined by John Cale, Maureen "Mo" Tucker, and Sterling Morrison, they created two enduring classics: The Velvet Underground & Nico (1967) and White Light/White Heat (1968). After Cale's departure, The Velvet Underground added Doug Yule, and recorded the eponymous The Velvet Underground in 1969, followed by the important Loaded album in 1970. Loaded contained the signature songs "Sweet Jane" and "Rock & Roll."
Reed left The Velvet Underground in 1970 to carve out a solo career. His self-titled debut with RCA Records didn't yield any hits and became an impossible album to find. But his second go-around, Transformer (1972), soared with the hit "Walk on the Wild Side." Produced by David Bowie and Mick Ronson, the album has since become a classic with tracks still used for many occasions. "Perfect Day" filled the preview of the 2013 film, You're Next.
Reed moved into even darker territory with Berlin, creating an album that wove a story over its two sides. However, it was his 1974 album, Sally Can't Dance, that found the artist changing his musical styles, a trend that would extend until his death. It was his controversial and unconventional album Metal Machine Music (1975) that split his fan base down the middle with one side calling it brilliant, and the other side returning the album to stores. Nevertheless, Metal Machine Music pre-dated much of the drone ambient music that is prevalent in ambient circles these days, making it an influential release.
Reed has many additional albums to his credit, including Coney Island Baby (1975), the fine Street Hassle (1978) set, New York (1989), and his recent collaboration with Metallica, Lulu (2011). Of course, his catalog is much larger, uniquely open to a dynamic "which is better" debate.
What matters at the moment is that the loss of such a talent as Lou Reed can be construed as an incredible loss to our world of rock and roll. With the Internet awash with tributes from all over the spectrum of music, it's crystal clear how much Lou Reed meant to many artists and fans, even if they never expressed it much before today. I'm guessing that a good collection may be forthcoming by Legacy Recordings, who holds the rights to Reed's RCA and Arista catalog.
Lou Reed is survived by his wife, performance artist and musician Laurie Anderson. He will be missed by many. I am among those those who feel the escaping air from the rent in the fabric of rock and roll. I just remember to breathe, not gasp.