Born: March 2, 1942; Brooklyn, NY
Died: October 27, 2013; Amagansett, NY
The career of Lou Reed defies capsule summarization. Like David Bowie (whom Reed directly inspired in many ways), he made over his image many times, mutating from theatrical glam-rocker to scary-looking junkie to avant-garde noiseman to straight rock & roller to yer average guy. A firmer grasp of rock's earthier qualities has ensured a more consistent career path than Bowie's, particularly in his latter years. Yet his catalog is extremelyRead more inconsistent, in both quality and stylistic orientation. Liking one Lou Reed LP, or several, or all of the ones he did in a particular era, is no guarantee that you'll like all of them, or even most of them.
Few would deny Reed's immense importance and considerable achievements, however. As has often been written, he expanded the vocabulary of rock & roll lyrics into the previously forbidden territory of kinky sex, drug use (and abuse), decadence, transvestites, homosexuality, and suicidal depression. As has been pointed out less often, he remained committed to using rock & roll as a forum for literary, mature expression well into middle age, without growing lyrically soft or musically complacent. By and large, he took on these challenging duties with uncompromising honesty and a high degree of realism. For these reasons, he's often cited as punk's most important ancestor. It's often overlooked, though, that he was equally skilled at celebrating romantic joy, and rock & roll itself, as he was at depicting harrowing urban realities. Most would have to concede that with the exception of Neil Young, no other star that rose to fame in the 1960s continued to push himself so diligently into creating work that is meaningful and contemporary. If that means he relied on stock musical and lyrical ideas at times (as Young does), it also means he proved that rock can remain relevant to listeners other than hormone-crazed teenagers. Read less
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