MOJO MAGAZINE is shocked and saddened to learn of the death of Lou Reed, aged 71. While details are yet to emerge, a connection appears likely with the singer’s liver transplant in May. At Reed’s age such a major procedure would have posed significant and ongoing risks. However, when MOJO last spoke to him – around the photo book he recently produced with photographer and friend Mick Rock – he was hale and full of familiar Reed punchiness.
What is certain is that his departure robs the music world of one of its 24-carat originals. Beginning his rock’n’roll life as a songwriter-for hire at Pickwick in the mid-’60s, he osmosed the values of the classic rock’n’roll song, and however "out" or avant-garde his music would become, there was always a swing or a sense of propulsion. Although the Velvet Underground’s groundbreaking first two albums appeared to match dark, S&M-tinged themes with guitar sounds akin to sonic torture, fellow guitarist Sterling Morrison would always say that, at root, they were always trying to emulate Ike Turner.
Reed fuelled the Velvets with his own anger at the world – perhaps not unrelated to the electro-shock "therapy" he underwent in his teens to "cure" bisexuality – and the group defined and innovated attitudes that would later earn the epithet "punk". Aligned with Andy Warhol’s Factory set-up, they collaborated on the touring multimedia freak-revue, the Exploding Plastic Inevitable. Meanwhile, their recordings – corralling Morrison, Welsh avant-garde bassist/violist John Cale, monolithic beat-mistress Moe Tucker and, for a spine-chilling moment, Teutonic ice-queen singer Nico – defied pre-existing models to combine beauty, nihilism, amphetamine thrills and audience intimidation in equal measure.
As a solo artist, few have swerved more violently between good-time rocking, brooding interior exploration and high-wire experimental escapades. With Reed, you never knew what you were going to get: ten stone classic songs, a piece of musical theatre based on Edgar Allan Poe, or four sides of unlistenable feedback. Transformer (1972), Berlin (1973), New York (1989) and Magic And Loss (1992) lock horns with any other records of their eras, but there’s plenty of bounty to be discovered throughout Reed’s solo catalogue.
“Never explain, never apologise” could have been his mantra, and he chewed up journalists who dared to pry into his process, but he was an inspiration to all who disdained compromise, and his musical legacy – which MOJO promises to return to and celebrate further in future posts and issues of the magazine – will reverberate as long as people love rock’n’roll.
MOJO's sadness and condolences go out to Reed’s wife Laurie Anderson.