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Lou Reed, the father of alternative rock music, is dead at 71

by Jeff Miers

News Pop Music Criti

Lou Reed, the father of alternative rock music and the man responsible for co-founding the hugely influential Velvet Underground, died on Sunday at the age of 71. Details of Reed's death had not been disclosed at press time. 

"The world has lost a fine songwriter and poet," Reed's former Velvet Underground partner John Cale wrote on Twitter Sunday. "I've lost my 'school-yard buddy'".  

Reed routinely wrote about the dark underbelly of American life - songs detailing the life of drug addicts, the destitute, and the detritus of American life.  

There was an emphasis on peace, love, and an idealism that bordered on utopianism in the culture of popular music at the tail-end of the 60s. But a new school, well-studied in the works of the Beat writers and eager to bring an unflinchingly  realist approach to the table, was about to make its presence felt as that decade gave way to the 70s. Reed, as principal songwriter with the Velvet Underground, painted in stark strokes the East Coast reaction to West Coast idealism. Here was a dark take on American life, an urban view that stood in stark contrast to hippie idealism, and Reed was its chief architect. 

The Velvet Underground never became a major commercial concern, but the band's influence was monumental. While the late 60s found domestic artists crafting a psychedelic music rooted in American folk, country, blues and jazz, the VU favored an approach more commonly associated with the European avant garde. Songs like "Waiting for the Man," "Heroin," "All Tomorrow's Parties" and "Femme Fatale" smacked of a gritty verisimilitude, and married a primal pre-punk to Reed's drone-based compositional tendencies. 

Despite it's lack of mainstream success, the band was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1996, largely based on the influence the band had on punk and alternative musicians like David Bowie, the Pixies, Sonic Youth, R.E.M, and U2. 

When the Velvet Underground disbanded, Reed launched a solo career that would find him pushing the envelope in the areas of glam rock, garage rock, punk, new wave and pop. In 1973, he scored a major hit with "Walk On the Wild Side," a song that dealt with trans-gender issues, drug  use, and the lives of down-and-out hustlers. That it was a hit still seems like a miracle all these decades on. 

Reed would prove to be a hit-and-miss proposition as a solo artist. He released several albums that insist on being regarded as classics - the David Bowie produced "Transformer," "Berlin, "Rock and Roll Animal," "Cone Island Baby," and later, "New York," "Magic & Loss," and "Ecstasy." He would also baffle his public with decidedly confrontational releases like the all-feedback "Metal Machine Music," the dark-to-the-point-of-bleakness "Poe," and even the more recent collaboration with Metallica, "Lulu." 

Throughout his career, Reed displayed an artistic bull-headedness that spoke of an iconoclast's tendencies. He seemed to enjoy confronting his audiences with the unexpected, and he never appeared to be concerned with catering to public tastes.  

Many of Reed's peers and fellow musicians posted their thoughts on Twitter throughout Sunday. 

"R.I.P Lou Reed. Walk on the peaceful side," read a post from the Who. 

"My friend Lou Reed came to the end of his song," posted author Salman Rushdie. "So very sad."

"RIP Lou Reed. you made the world a better place," wrote Jim James of My Morning Jacket.

In Buffalo, Reed's music left an indelible stain on the original music scene, particularly as it was represented in clubs like the Continental and Mohawk Place. Bands that displayed a Reed influence included Odiorne, Dark Marbles, Girlpope, Terry Sullivan, and Semi-Tough, among many others. 

Said Brad Solley of Semi-Tough on Sunday, "Lou was Nathan's Hot Dogs, the Cyclone, street corner a cappella groups, the dark side of drugs, New York City, and the gorgeous sound of feedback. He was heroic. He made me want to write. He made me want to start a group. I only wish I could have his gift for words, so I could describe what he really meant to me."

jmiers@buffnews.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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