The Church Of Lou Reed

Yesterday the legendary rocker died at the age of 71. Alex Abramovich pays tribute to his influence as a founding member of the Velvet Underground:

For Reed, rock and roll was not a religion; it was religion itself. Repetitions, drones: these were the ways into trance states, and Reed’s way around an ‘all right!’ was rooted in the old Pentecostal church, where the words ‘I feel all right!’ signalled your readiness to receive the Holy Spirit. In his self-reflexive masterpiece, ‘Rock and Roll’, music promised answers that religion could no longer provide. … Over the years, the Velvet Underground became a kind of church in which teenage pilgrims found one another.

Jody Rosen remembers Reed as “a pop star for adults”:

His vocal phrasing was modeled on Bob Dylan’s, but unlike Dylan and other songwriters steeped in folk, Reed never came on like Methuselah—never tried to sound like the old-as-the-hills Voice of the American Musical Unconscious. Instead, Reed did something novel: he wrote and sang rock songs like a grownup. In an interview in the mid-eighties, Reed said: “My interest—all the way back with the Velvets—[has] been in one really simple guiding-light idea: take rock & roll, the pop format, and make it for adults. With subject matter written for adults so adults, like myself, could listen to it.”

Michael Musto eulogizes the artist as a “NYC original” and “cool personified”:

The godfather of punk, with a heavy dose of glam, Lou collaborated with all the right people, and always seemed to eventually make up with them in time to collaborate with them some more.

I thought Lou would be around forever—not only to keep creating, but as a walking reminder of New York’s days of skinny ties and colorful nihilism. He was rock and roll royalty, as photographer/director Timothy Greenfield-Sanders, a longtime friend of Lou’s, just noted to me. Said Greenfield-Sanders:

“I remember standing onstage at Madison Square Garden for David Bowie’s 50th birthday in 1997, getting ready to photograph Lou, who was about to play with his old friend from the Transformer days. Bowie announced the upcoming performance by saying, ‘And now, the king of New York, Lou Reed.’ Lou was the king of New York. Lou represented what we all loved about New York, what was cool, edgy, transgressive. Lou was why we came to New York.”

From Marc Campbell’s tribute:

It has been said that The Velvet Underground spawned more bands than it sold albums. It’s true. Lou opened up the field for millions of us. There are few modern singer/songwriters that haven’t been influenced by his direct way of telling a story in song without hyped-up sentiment or maudlin platitudes. His hard-edged, cynical style, shot through with harsh beauty and tenderness, created a new level of sophistication and adultness in rock that hadn’t much been heard before him. He cut through the cute shit and talked about the raw side of city life like Cole Porter on a cocktail of crystal meth and Seconal. … The shit he wrote about, the shit he lived, could kill you. But you can’t write with the insight he did about the darker side of life, the lost souls and broken hearts, without having an incredible sense of empathy and love.

Chal Ravens’s obituary quotes from Reed’s own recent review of Kanye West’s Yeezus:

“I have never thought of music as a challenge,” he offered. “You always figure the audience is at least as smart as you are. You do this because you like it, you think what you’re making is beautiful. And if you think it’s beautiful, maybe they’ll think it’s beautiful.”

Listen to some of his best songs here.