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Revisiting the career of late Lou Reed

October 28, 2013
Los Angeles Magazine

by Anthony Miller

Lou Reed's L.A. Culture Collide

Lou Reed, who died yesterday at age 71, was a supreme songwriter, storyteller, and scourge of music journalists (just read Lester Bangs or listen to Reed’s between-song harangues on his 1978 album Take No Prisoners). He imbued rock music with gravity, menace, and insolence. Reed sang about discovery, whether he was finding a reason or rushing on a run and feeling just like Jesus' son or turning on the radio and being saved by rock and roll. These appeals took his listeners—musicians, artists, a certain dissident Czech playwright, and countless estranged urban denizens—to places where they sought their own voices. 

Some have argued that Reed’s work brought the street and the literary avant-garde together, but it was more the fact that he innately understood what the two realms had in common. For Reed, it was about recognizing the humanity that resided within the strangeness, acknowledging that even in dreams there were responsibilities. Growing up, Reed listened to doo-wop even as he immersed himself in the stories of outsiders in books by Nelson Algren, Hubert Selby Jr., and John Rechy. He studied and drank at Syracuse with poet and short story writer Delmore Schwartz, to whom he would dedicate the song “European Son” and sing to in “My House” on The Blue Mask. Reed’s next mentor would be Andy Warhol, who would produce the Velvet Underground and to whom Reed later paid tribute on the stirring 1990 album that reunited him with his Velvet Underground compatriot John Cale, Songs for Drella.

If Reed had done nothing but the first four albums with the Velvet Underground, that would have been more than enough for inclusion into the rock ‘n’ roll pantheon. Read more.

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