“Sunday morning is the dawning,” Lou Reed sings on the Velvet Underground’s debut, self-titled album. He was a musician, an artist and one of the greatest inspirations to the art world of all time. Reed’s life prematurely ended at the age of 71 on Sunday morning Oct. 27. Reed had been battling liver disease for quite a while, having received a transplant in the spring. Dr. Charles Miller, who performed the transplant, confirmed that disease was terminal a few days before his death. Reed left the hospital for his home in Southampton, N.Y. to die in peace.
Reed grew up in Freeport, Long Island during the 1950s in a Jewish family. Having learned how to play guitar from the radio, he became interested in rock ‘n’ roll and blues. Reed started a number of small bands during high school.
While growing up, he realized that he was bisexual. Reed received electroshock therapy to correct his divergence from heterosexuality. He has often said that this experience was very influential to his music.
He became a songwriter when he moved to New York City after graduating from Syracuse University in 1964. He started the band The Velvet Underground and in 1967, The Velvet Underground released its first album The Velvet Underground & Nico, produced by Andy Warhol, a pioneer of both avant-garde art and music.
The album and Reed’s work cover many themes such as love, alienation, sex and addiction. The song “Heroin” only features guitar and drums, and gives a narrative of what it is like to take the drug.
“When I put a spike into my vein/And I’ll tell ya things aren’t quite the same/When I’m rushing on my run/And I feel just like Jesus’ son,” Reed sings.
“Reed started singing outside of the song’s melody, as if he were giving a speech with a fluctuating drone in a New York accent,” The New York Times music critic Ben Ratliff wrote.
The very experimental album only sold 30,000 copies in the first five years of its release. Rolling Stone magazine lists the album as number 13 on the Greatest Albums of All Time.
Bands like R.E.M., Nirvana, U2, The Talking Heads, Joy Division and The Strokes owe a lot of their success to Reed. The experimental nature of music has had a lasting influence on music in general.
Reed had been sober since the ‘80s; becoming obsessed with his own health, he started practicing the art of Tai Chi.
The music world has lost a great leader. Reed was a man who pushed the boundaries of music while inspiring many. He may be gone, but his music legacy will last for many years to come. Friend and fellow musician Iggy Pop tweeted only two words, “Devastating news.”
“The world has lost a fine songwriter and poet … I’ve lost my ‘schoolyard buddy,’” Reed’s Velvet Underground bandmate John Cale said.