Lewis Allan "Lou" Reed (born on March 2, 1942) is an American rock musician, songwriter, and photographer. He is best known as guitarist, vocalist, and principal songwriter of The Velvet Underground, and for his solo career, which has spanned several decades. Though the Velvet Underground were a commercial failure in the late 1960s, the group has gained a considerable cult following in the years since its demise and has gone on to become one of the most widely cited and influential bands of the era. As the Velvet Underground's principal songwriter, Reed wrote about subjects of personal experience that rarely had been examined so openly in rock and roll, including sexuality and drug culture.
After his departure from the group, Reed began a solo career in 1971. He had a hit the following year with "Walk on the Wild Side", although he subsequently lacked the mainstream commercial success its chart status seemed to indicate. Reed's work as a solo artist frustrated critics wishing for a return of the Velvet Underground. In 1975 Reed released a double album of feedback loops, Metal Machine Music, upon which he later commented: "No one is supposed to be able to do a thing like that and survive."
In 2008, Reed married performance artist Laurie Anderson.
Reed was born at Beth El Hospital in Brooklyn and grew up in Freeport, Long Island. Contrary to some sources, his birth name was Lewis Allan Reed, not Louis Firbanks, a name that was coined as a joke by Lester Bangs in Creem magazine. Having learned to play the guitar from the radio, he developed an early interest in rock and roll and rhythm and blues, and during high school played in a number of bands. His first recording was as a member of a doo wop-style group called The Jades.
In 1956 Reed received electroconvulsive therapy as a teenager intended to cure his bisexuality; he wrote about the experience in his 1974 song, "Kill Your Sons". In an interview, Reed said of the experience:
"They put the thing down your throat so you don't swallow your tongue, and they put electrodes on your head. That's what was recommended in Rockland County to discourage homosexual feelings. The effect is that you lose your memory and become a vegetable. You can't read a book because you get to page 17 and have to go right back to page one again."
--Lou Reed quoted in Please Kill Me (1996)
Reed began attending Syracuse University in the fall of 1960, studying journalism, film directing, and creative writing. In 1961 he began hosting a late-night radio program on WAER called "Excursions On A Wobbly Rail". Named after a song by pianist Cecil Taylor, the program typically featured doo wop, rhythm and blues and jazz, particularly the free jazz developed in the mid-1950s. Many of Reed's guitar techniques, such as the guitar-drum roll, were inspired by jazz saxophonists, notably Ornette Coleman. Reed graduated from Syracuse University's College of Arts and Sciences with a B.A. in June 1964.
Poet Delmore Schwartz taught at Syracuse University and befriended Reed, who in 1966 dedicated the song "European Son", from the Velvet Underground's debut album The Velvet Underground & Nico, to Schwartz. In 1982, Reed recorded "My House" as a tribute to his late mentor. He later said that his goals as a writer were "to bring the sensitivities of the novel to rock music" or to write the Great American Novel in a record album.
Staff songwriter at Pickwick Records:
In 1964 Reed moved to New York City and began working as an in-house songwriter for Pickwick Records. In 1964 he scored a minor hit with the single "The Ostrich", a parody of popular dance songs of the time, which included lines such as "put your head on the floor and have somebody step on it." His employers felt that the song had hit potential, and arranged for a band to be assembled around Reed to promote the recording. The ad hoc group, called The Primitives, included Welsh musician John Cale, who had recently moved to New York to study music and was playing viola in composer La Monte Young's Theater of Eternal Music, along with Tony Conrad. Cale and Conrad were both surprised to find that for "The Ostrich" Reed tuned each string of his guitar to the same note. This technique created a drone effect similar to their experimentation in Young's avant-garde ensemble. Disappointed with Reed's performance, Cale was nevertheless impressed by Reed's early repertoire (including "Heroin"), and a partnership began to evolve.
The Velvet Underground:
Main article: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Velvet_Underground
Reed and Cale lived together on the Lower East Side, and after inviting Reed's college acquaintances, guitarist Sterling Morrison and drummer Maureen Tucker, to join the group, they formed The Velvet Underground. Though internally unstable (Cale left in 1968, Reed in 1970) and without commercial success, the band has a long-standing reputation as one of the most influential bands in rock history.
The group soon caught the attention of artist Andy Warhol. One of Warhol's first contributions was to integrate them into the Exploding Plastic Inevitable. Warhol's associates inspired many of Reed's songs as he fell into a thriving, multifaceted artistic scene. Reed rarely gives an interview without paying homage to Warhol as a mentor. Conflict emerged when Warhol had the idea for the group to take on a chanteuse, the European former model and singer Nico. Reed and the others registered their objection by titling their debut album The Velvet Underground & Nico to imply that Nico was not accepted as a member of the group. Despite his initial resistance, Reed wrote several songs for Nico to sing, and the two were briefly lovers (as were Nico and Cale later). The Velvet Underground & Nico reached #171 on the charts.
Today, however, it is considered one of the most influential rock albums ever recorded. Rolling Stone magazine has it listed as the 13th most influential album of all time. Brian Eno once famously stated that although few people bought the album, most of those who did were inspired to form their own band.
By the time the band recorded White Light/White Heat, Nico had quit and Warhol was fired, both against Cale's wishes. Warhol's replacement as manager, Steve Sesnick, convinced Reed to drive Cale out of the band. Morrison and Tucker were discomfited by Reed's tactics but continued with the group. Cale's replacement was Doug Yule, whom Reed would often facetiously introduce as his younger brother. The group now took on a more pop-oriented sound and acted more as a vehicle for Reed to develop his songwriting craft. The group released two albums with this line up: 1969's The Velvet Underground and 1970's Loaded. The latter included two of the group's most commercially successful songs, "Rock and Roll" and "Sweet Jane". Reed left the Velvet Underground in August 1970; the band disintegrated as core members Sterling Morrison and Maureen Tucker departed in 1971 and 1972, respectively. Yule continued until early 1973, and the band released one more studio album, Squeeze, under the Velvet Underground name.
After the band's move to Atlantic Records' Cotillion label, their new manager pushed Reed to change the subject matter of his songs to lighter topics in hopes of commercial success. The band's album Loaded had taken more time to record than the previous three albums together, but had not broken the band through to a wider audience. Reed briefly retired to his parents' home on Long Island.
After quitting the Velvet Underground in August 1970, Reed took a job at his father's tax accounting firm as a typist, by his own account earning $40 a week. A year later, however, he signed a recording contract with RCA and recorded his first solo album in London with top session musicians including Steve Howe and Rick Wakeman, members of the progressive rock group Yes. The album, simply titled Lou Reed, contained smoothly produced, re-recorded versions of unreleased Velvet Underground songs, some of which were originally recorded by the Velvets for Loaded but shelved (see the Peel Slowly and See box set). This first solo album was overlooked by most pop music critics (although Stephen Holden in Rolling Stone called it "almost perfect") and it did not sell in significant numbers.
In December 1972, Reed released Transformer. David Bowie and Mick Ronson co-produced the album and introduced Reed to a wider popular audience (specifically in the UK). The hit single "Walk on the Wild Side" was an ironic yet affectionate salute to the misfits, hustlers, and transvestites who once surrounded Andy Warhol. Each of the song's five verses poignantly describes an actual person who had been a fixture at The Factory during the mid-to-late 1960s: (1) Holly Woodlawn, (2) Candy Darling, (3) "Little Joe" Dallesandro, (4) "Sugar Plum Fairy" Joe Campbell and (5) Jackie Curtis. The song's cleverly transgressive lyrics evaded radio censorship. Though the jazzy arrangement (courtesy of bassist Herbie Flowers and saxophonist Ronnie Ross) was musically somewhat atypical for Reed, it eventually became his signature song. The song came about as a result of his commission to compose a soundtrack to a theatrical adaptation of Nelson Algren's novel of the same name, though the play failed to materialize. Ronson's arrangements brought out new aspects of Reed's songs; "Perfect Day", for example, features delicate strings and soaring dynamics. It was rediscovered in the 1990s and allowed Reed to drop "Walk on the Wild Side" from his concerts.
Though Transformer would prove to be Reed's commercial and critical pinnacle, there was no small amount of resentment in Reed devoted to the shadow the record cast over the rest of his career. An argument between Bowie and Reed ended their working relationship for several years, though its subject is not known. The two reconciled some years later, and Reed performed with Bowie at the latter's 50th birthday concert at Madison Square Garden in 1997. The two would not formally collaborate again until 2003's The Raven. Touring in support of Transformer posed the challenge of forming a band for the first time since joining the Velvets. Reed took the simple path of hiring an inexperienced bar band, The Tots. Their straightforward guitar sound suited the songs, and Reed spent much of 1972 and the winter of 1973 on the road with them. Though they improved over the months, criticism of their still-basic abilities ultimately led Reed to fire them mid-tour. He chose the creative young keyboardist Moogy Klingman to come up with a new five-member backing band on barely a week's notice. Thus the tour continued through the spring with a denser, bluesier and tighter sound that presaged the very successful live albums Reed would record with all different musicians in December.
Reed followed Transformer with the darker Berlin, which tells the story of two junkies in love in the titular city. The songs variously concern domestic abuse ("Caroline Says I", "Caroline Says II"), drug addiction ("How Do You Think It Feels"), adultery and prostitution ("The Kids"), and suicide ("The Bed"). Reed's late-1973 European tour, featuring dual lead guitarists Steve Hunter and Dick Wagner, mixed his Berlin material with older rockers.
After Berlin came two albums in 1974, Sally Can't Dance and a live record Rock 'n' Roll Animal, which contained performances of the Velvet Underground songs "Sweet Jane" and "Heroin". Rock 'n' Roll Animal became his biggest selling album, and its follow-up Lou Reed Live, recorded on the same occasions in December 1973, kept Reed in the public eye with strong sales after its release in early 1975.
As he had done with Berlin after Transformer, in 1975 Reed responded to commercial success with a commercial failure, a double album of electronically generated audio feedback, Metal Machine Music. Critics interpreted it as a gesture of contempt, an attempt to break his contract with RCA or to alienate his less sophisticated fans. But Reed claimed that the album was a genuine artistic effort, even suggesting that quotations of classical music could be found buried in the feedback. Lester Bangs declared it "genius", though also as psychologically disturbing. The album was reportedly returned to stores by the thousands after a few weeks. Though later admitting that the liner notes' list of instruments is fictitious and intended as parody, Reed maintains that MMM was and is a serious album. He has since stated though that at the time he had taken it seriously, he was also "very stoned". In the 2000s it was adapted for orchestral performance by the German ensemble Zeitkratzer.
By contrast, 1975's Coney Island Baby was mainly a warm and mellow album, though for its characters Reed still drew on the underbelly of city life. At this time his lover was a transgender woman, Rachel, mentioned in the dedication of "Coney Island Baby" and appearing in the photos on the cover of Reed's 1977 "best of" album, Walk on the Wild Side: The Best of Lou Reed. While Rock and Roll Heart, his 1976 debut for his new record label Arista, fell short of expectations, Street Hassle (1978) was a return to form in the midst of the punk scene he had helped to inspire. But Reed was dismissive of punk and rejected any affiliation with it. "I'm too literate to be into punk rock... The whole CBGB's, new Max's thing that everyone's into and what's going on in London -- you don't seriously think I'm responsible for what's mostly rubbish?"The Bells (1979) featured jazz musician Don Cherry, and was followed the next year by Growing Up in Public with guitarist Chuck Hammer. Around this period he also appeared as a sleazy record producer in Paul Simon's film One Trick Pony. Reed also played several unannounced one-off concerts in tiny downtown Manhattan clubs with the likes of Cale, Patti Smith, and David Byrne during this period.
In 1980, Reed married British designer Sylvia Morales. They were divorced more than a decade later. While together, Morales inspired Reed to write several songs, particularly "Think It Over" from 1980's Growing Up in Public and "Heavenly Arms" from 1982's The Blue Mask. After Legendary Hearts (1983) and New Sensations (1984) fared adequately on the charts, Reed was sufficiently reestablished as a public figure to become spokesman for Honda motorcycles.
In the early 1980s, Reed asked guitarist Robert Quine to join his group. Quine appeared on Reed's The Blue Mask (1982), acclaimed as one of Reed's best albums, and Legendary Hearts (1983). The two guitarists' played both rhythm and lead guitar. Robert Quine eventually quit the group due to tensions with Reed. However, Reed persuaded Quine to rejoin for a world tour, with which he agreed to despite his aversion to touring, for financial reasons. Quine ended his musical relationship with Reed in 1985.
On September 22, 1985, Reed performed at the first Farm Aid concert in Champaign, Illinois. He performed Doin' The Things That We Want To, I Love You, Suzanne, New Sensations, and Walk on The Wild Side.
In 1986, he joined Amnesty International's A Conspiracy of Hope Tour and was outspoken about New York's political issues and personalities on the 1989 album New York, commenting on crime, AIDS, Jesse Jackson, Kurt Waldheim, and Pope John Paul II.
Following Warhol's death after routine surgery in 1987, Reed again collaborated with John Cale on the biographical Songs for Drella, Warhol's nickname. The album marked an end to a 22-year estrangement from Cale. On the album, Reed sings of his love for his late friend, but also criticizes both the doctors who were unable to save Warhol's life and Warhol's would-be assassin, Valerie Solanas.
In 1990, following a 20-year hiatus, the Velvet Underground reformed for a Fondation Cartier benefit in France. Reed released his sixteenth solo record, Magic and Loss, in 1992, an album about mortality, inspired by the death of two close friends from cancer. In 1993, the Velvet Underground again reunited and toured throughout Europe, although plans for a North American tour were cancelled following another falling out between Reed and Cale. In 1994, Reed appeared in A Celebration: The Music of Pete Townshend and The Who, also known as Daltrey Sings Townshend. This was a two-night concert at Carnegie Hall produced by Roger Daltrey in celebration of his fiftieth birthday. In 1994, a CD and a VHS video were issued, and in 1998 a DVD was released. Reed performed a radically rearranged version of "Now And Then" from Psychoderelict.
In 1996, the Velvet Underground were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. At the induction ceremony, Reed performed a song entitled "Last Night I Said Goodbye to My Friend" alongside former bandmates John Cale and Maureen Tucker, in dedication to Velvet Underground guitarist Sterling Morrison, who had died the previous August. Reed has since been nominated for the Rock Hall as a solo artist twice, in 2000 and 2001, but has not been inducted.
His 1996 album, Set the Twilight Reeling, met with a lukewarm reception, but 2000's Ecstasy drew praise from most critics, including Robert Christgau. In 1996, Reed contributed songs and music to Time Rocker, an avant-garde theatrical interpretation of H.G. Wells' The Time Machine staged by theater director Robert Wilson. The piece premiered in the Thalia Theater in Hamburg, Germany, and was later also shown at the Brooklyn Academy of Music in New York.
In 1998, the PBS TV show, American Masters aired Timothy Greenfield-Sanders' feature documentary Lou Reed: Rock and Roll Heart. This film, which premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in the U.S. and at the Berlin Film Festival in Germany went on to screen at over 50 festivals worldwide. In 1999, the film and Reed as its subject received a Grammy Award for best long form music video.
Since the late 1990s, Reed has been romantically linked to the musician, multi-media and performance artist Laurie Anderson, and the two have collaborated on a number of recordings together. Anderson contributed to "Call On Me" from Reed's project The Raven, to the tracks "Baton Rouge" and "Rock Minuet" from Reed's Ecstasy, and to "Hang On To Your Emotions" from Reed's Set the Twilight Reeling. Reed contributed to "In Our Sleep" from Anderson's Bright Red and to "One Beautiful Evening" from her Life on a String. They married on April 12, 2008.
2000 to 2003
In May 2000, Reed performed before Pope John Paul II at the Great Jubilee Concert in Rome. In 2000, a new collaboration with Robert Wilson called Poe-Try was staged at the Thalia Theater in Germany. As with the previous collaboration Time Rocker, Poe-Try was also inspired by the works of a 19th-century writer: Edgar Allan Poe. Reed became interested in Poe after producer and long-time friend Hal Willner had suggested him to read some of Poe's text at a Halloween benefit he was curating at St. Ann's Episcopal Church in Brooklyn. For this new collaboration, Reed reworked and even rewrote some of Poe's text as well as included some new songs based on the theme explored in the texts. In 2001, Reed made a cameo appearance in the movie adaptation of Prozac Nation. On October 6, 2001 the New York Times published a Reed poem called Laurie Sadly Listening in which he reflects upon the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
Incorrect reports of Reed's death were broadcast by numerous US radio stations in 2001, caused by a hoax email (purporting to be from Reuters) which said he had died of a drug overdose. In 2003, he released a 2-CD set, The Raven, based on "Poe-Try". Besides Reed and his band, the album featured a wide range of actors and musicians including singers David Bowie, Laurie Anderson, Kate and Anna McGarrigle, The Blind Boys of Alabama and Antony Hegarty, saxophonist and long-time idol Ornette Coleman, and actors Elizabeth Ashley, Christopher Walken, Steve Buscemi, Willem Dafoe, Amanda Plummer, Fisher Stevens and Kate Valk. The album consisted of songs written by Reed and spoken-word performances of reworked and rewritten texts of Edgar Allan Poe by the actors, set to electronic music composed by Reed. At the same time a single disc CD version of the albums, focusing on the music, was also released.
A few months after the release of The Raven, a new 2-CD Best Of-set was released, entitled NYC Man (The Ultimate Collection 1967-2003), which featured an unreleased version of the song "Who am I" and a selection of career spanning tracks that had been selected, remastered and sequenced under Reed's supervision. In April 2003, Reed embarked on a new world tour supporting both new and released material, with a band including cellist Jane Scarpantoni and singer Antony Hegarty. During some of the concerts for this tour, the band was joined by Master Ren Guangyi, Reed's personal T'ai Chi instructor, performing T'ai Chi movements to the music on stage. This tour was documented in the 2004 double disc live album Animal Serenade, recorded live at The Wiltern in Los Angeles.
In 2003, Reed released his first book of photographs, Emotions in Action. This work actually was made up out of two books, a larger A4-paper sized called Emotions and a smaller one called Actions which was laid into the hard cover of the former. After Hours: a Tribute to the Music of Lou Reed was released by Wampus Multimedia in 2003.
In 2003, Reed was also a judge for the third annual Independent Music Awards to support independent artists' careers.
2004 to 2006
In 2004, a Groovefinder remix of his song, "Satellite of Love" (called "Satellite of Love '04") was released. It reached #10 in the UK singles chart. Also in 2004, Reed contributed vocals and guitar to the track "Fistful of love" on I Am a Bird Now by Antony and the Johnsons. In 2005, Reed did a spoken word text on Danish rock band Kashmir's album No Balance Palace.
In January 2006, a second book of photographs, Lou Reed's New York, was released. At the 2006 MTV Video Music Awards, Reed performed "White Light/White Heat" with The Raconteurs. Later in the night, while co-presenting the award for Best Rock Video with Pink, he exclaimed, apparently unscripted, that "MTV should be playing more rock n' roll."
In October 2006, Reed appeared at Hal Willner's Leonard Cohen tribute show "Came So Far For Beauty" in Dublin, beside the cast of Laurie Anderson, Nick Cave, Antony, Jarvis Cocker, Beth Orton, and others. According to the reports, he played a heavy metal version of Cohen's "The Stranger Song". He also performed "One Of Us Cannot Be Wrong" and two duets -- "Joan of Arc", with Cohen's former back-up singer Julie Christensen, and "Memories" -- in a duet with Anjani Thomas.
In December 2006, Reed played a first series of show at St. Ann's Warehouse, Brooklyn, based on his 1973 Berlin song cycle. Reed was reunited on stage with guitarist Steve Hunter, who played on the original album as well as on Rock 'n' Roll Animal, as well as joined by singers Antony Hegarty and Sharon Jones, pianist Rupert Christie, a horn and string section and the Brooklyn Youth Chorus. The show was being produced by Bob Ezrin, who also produced the original album, and Hal Willner. The stage was designed by painter Julian Schnabel and a film about protagonist "Caroline" directed by his daughter, Lola Schnabel, was being projected to the stage. A live recording of these concerts was also published as a film (directed by Schnabel) which was released spring 2008. The show was also played at the Sydney Festival in January 2007 and throughout Europe during June and July 2007. The album version of the concert, entitled Berlin: Live At St. Ann's Warehouse, was released in 2008.
2007 to 2009
In April 2007, he released Hudson River Wind Meditations, his first record of ambient meditation music. The record was released on the Sounds True record label and contains four tracks that were said to have been composed just for himself as a guidance for T'ai Chi exercise and meditation. In May 2007 Reed performed the narration for a screening of Guy Maddin's silent film The Brand Upon the Brain. In June 2007, he performed live at the Traffic Festival 2007 in Turin, Italy, a five-day free event organized by the town.
In August 2007, Reed went into the studio with The Killers in New York City to record "Tranquilize", a duet with Brandon Flowers for The Killers' b-side/rarities album, called Sawdust. During that month, he also recorded guitar for the Lucibel Crater song "Threadbare Funeral", which appears on their full-length CD The Family Album. In October 2007, Reed gave a special performance in the Recitement song "Passengers". The album combines music with spoken word. The album was composed by Stephen Emmer and produced by Tony Visconti. Hollandcentraal was inspired by this piece of music and literature, which spawned a concept for a music video. On October 1, 2008, Reed joined Richard Barone via projected video on a spoken/sung duet of Reed's "I'll Be Your Mirror", with cellist Jane Scarpantoni, in Barone's FRONTMAN: A Musical Reading at Carnegie Hall.
On October 2 and 3, 2008, he premiered his new group, which later was named Metal Machine Trio, at REDCAT (Walt Disney Concert Hall Complex, Los Angeles). The live recordings of the concerts were released under the title The Creation of the Universe. The Trio features Ulrich Krieger (saxophone) and Sarth Calhoun (electronics), and plays free improvised instrumental music inspired by Reed's 1975 album Metal Machine Music. The music ranges from ambient soundscapes to free rock to contemporary noise. The trio played further shows at New York's Gramercy Theater in April 2009 and appeared as part of Reed's band at the 2009 Lollapalooza, including a 10 minute free trio improvisation. At Lollapalooza, held in Chicago's Grant Park, Reed played "Sweet Jane" and "White Light/White Heat" with Metallica at Madison Square Garden as part of the 25th-anniversary celebration of the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame on October 30, 2009. Reed's recent activity in films include providing the voice of Maltazard, the villain in the forthcoming Luc Besson animated film, Arthur and the Vengeance of Maltazard, and playing the role of himself in Wim Wenders' movie Palermo Shooting (2008).
In 2009, Reed became an active member of the Jazz Foundation of America (JFA). He was a featured performer at the JFA's annual benefit "A Great Night in Harlem" in May 2009.
Reed has remained active doing benefits and composing music. He has contributed vocals on the third Gorillaz album, Plastic Beach, on the song "Some Kind Of Nature". and co-wrote and performed backup music for a Chen Style T'ai Chi instructional DVD. He has a co-production credit on Laurie Anderson's Homeland.
Lou Reed performed a cover of the Buddy Holly song "Peggy Sue" which is featured on the tribute album Rave On Buddy Holly.
Reed also began touring with the Metal Machine Trio, which was widely viewed as a return to his exploration of noise and sound. In 2011, heavy metal band Metallica recorded a full length collaboration with Lou Reed entitled Lulu, released November 1 in North America and October 31 everywhere else. After he initially refused Susan Boyle the right to perform "Perfect Day" on an American television special ("America's Got Talent"), he subsequently agreed to direct her video rendition.
In January 2012 Reed and John Cale sued the Andy Warhol Foundation for the license to use the yellow banana image from Warhol's art for The Velvet Underground & Nico album.