Monday, November 7, 2011

Lou Reed..The Velvet Underground

 Opening Remarks

 Lou Reed will forever be known for one song, although he did so much more. That is something that happens to a lot of artists.
Who was Lou Reed? What were his talents? 
Like most artists primarily known for one song, most know little to nothing about them. I certainly didn't. I knew that one song, Walk On The Wild Side, and little else. Many don't know that he inspired Jim Morrison of the Doors when he was in The Velvet Underground.
Lou Reed was not a good singer. He did not have a good singing voice. He was marginal at best as a singer. The melodies in his songs, for the most part, are very hard to listen to. At times they are even hard to like. 
Lou Reed had two great talents. First, he was a tremendously talented writer. He wrote just about every song he recorded, which was more than 20 albums. He writes heartfelt songs with interesting lyrics that he ties in well.
He is a complete non conformist while still operating just on the edges of the pop music scene. a very unique balance. and conflict.

He was so diverse that I cant think of anyone who had such a wide variety of styles. He was also a very innovative guy, and in many ways spawned the movement that led to The Doors, David Bowie and all the glam rockers and punk rockers that came after him.
He will always be known for that one song, but he will always actually be an artist who was much more than one song.


Lewis Allan "Lou" Reed was born on March 2, 1942 in Brooklyn, New York

Reed was born into a Jewish family  and grew up in Freeport, Long Island. 

 His first recording was as a member of a doo wop-style group called The Jades.

  He is best known as guitarist, vocalist, and principal songwriter of The Velvet Underground

 As the Velvet Underground's principal songwriter, Reed wrote about subjects of personal experience that rarely had been examined so openly in rock and roll, including sexuality and drug culture.

In 1956 Reed received electroconvulsive therapy as a teenager to "cure" his bisexuality; he wrote about the experience in his 1974 song, "Kill Your Sons". In an interview, Reed said of the experience:
"They put the thing down your throat so you don't swallow your tongue, and they put electrodes on your head. That's what was recommended in Rockland County to discourage homosexual feelings. The effect is that you lose your memory and become a vegetable. You can't read a book because you get to page 17 and have to go right back to page one again."
—Lou Reed quoted in Please Kill Me (1996)

Reed began attending Syracuse University in the fall of 1960, studying journalism, film directing, and creative writing.

  Many of Reed's guitar techniques, such as the guitar-drum roll, were inspired by jazz saxophonists, notably Ornette Coleman.

He is also responsible for the name and popularization of ostrich tuning.

Poet Delmore Schwartz taught at Syracuse University and befriended Reed, who in 1966 dedicated the song "European Son", from the Velvet Underground's debut album The Velvet Underground & Nico, to Schwartz.

In 1982, Reed recorded "My House" as a tribute to his late mentor. He later said that his goals as a writer were "to bring the sensitivities of the novel to rock music" or to write the Great American Novel in a record album.

In 1964 Reed moved to New York City and began working as an in-house songwriter for Pickwick Records. In 1964 he scored a minor hit with the single "The Ostrich", a parody of popular dance songs of the time, which included lines such as "put your head on the floor and have somebody step on it." His employers felt that the song had hit potential, and arranged for a band to be assembled around Reed to promote the recording. The ad hoc group, called The Primitives.


For "The Ostrich" Reed tuned each string of his guitar to the same note. This technique created a drone effect. 

Reed and John Cale lived together on the Lower East Side, and after inviting Reed's college acquaintances, guitarist Sterling Morrison and drummer Maureen Tucker, to join the group, they formed The Velvet Underground. Though internally unstable (Cale left in 1968; Reed in 1970) and without commercial success, the band has a long-standing reputation as one of the most influential bands in rock history.

The group soon caught the attention of artist Andy Warhol. One of Warhol's first contributions was to integrate them into the Exploding Plastic Inevitable.

Warhol's associates inspired many of Reed's songs as he fell into a thriving, multifaceted artistic scene. Reed rarely gives an interview without paying homage to Warhol as a mentor. 

Conflict emerged when Warhol had the idea for the group to take on a chanteuse, the European former model and singer Nico. Reed and the others registered their objection by titling their debut album The Velvet Underground & Nico to imply that Nico was not accepted as a member of the group. Despite his initial resistance, Reed wrote several songs for Nico to sing, and the two were briefly lovers (as were Nico and Cale later). The Velvet Underground & Nico reached #171 on the charts.

Today, however, it is considered one of the most influential rock albums ever recorded. Brian Eno once famously stated that although few people bought the album, most of those who did were inspired to form their own band.

By the time the band recorded White Light/White Heat, Nico had quit and Warhol was fired, both against Cale's wishes. Warhol's replacement as manager, Steve Sesnick, convinced Reed to drive Cale out of the band. Morrison and Tucker were discomfited by Reed's tactics but continued with the group. Cale's replacement was Doug Yule, whom Reed would often facetiously introduce as his younger brother. The group now took on a more pop-oriented sound and acted more as a vehicle for Reed to develop his songwriting craft.

The group released two albums with this line up: 1969's The Velvet Underground and 1970's Loaded. The latter included two of the group's most commercially successful songs, "Rock and Roll" and "Sweet Jane". 

After the band's move to Atlantic Records' Cotillion label, their new manager pushed Reed to change the subject matter of his songs to lighter topics in hopes of commercial success. The band's album Loaded had taken more time to record than the previous three albums together, but had not broken the band through to a wider audience. Reed briefly retired to his parents home on Long Island.

Reed left the Velvet Underground in August 1970

After quitting the Velvet Underground in August 1970, Reed took a job at his father's tax accounting firm as a typist, by his own account earning $40 a week. A year later, however, he signed a recording contract with RCA and recorded his first solo album in London with top session musicians including Steve Howe and Rick Wakeman, members of the progressive rock group Yes.

The album, simply titled Lou Reed, contained smoothly produced, re-recorded versions of unreleased Velvet Underground songs, some of which were originally recorded by the Velvets for Loaded but shelved  This first solo album was overlooked by most pop music critics (although Stephen Holden in Rolling Stone called it "almost perfect") and it did not sell in significant numbers.

In December 1972, Reed released Transformer. David Bowie and Mick Ronson co-produced the album and introduced Reed to a wider popular audience. The hit single "Walk on the Wild Side" was an ironic yet affectionate salute to the misfits, hustlers, and transvestites who once surrounded Andy Warhol.

Each of the song's five verses poignantly describes an actual person who had been a fixture at The Factory during the mid-to-late 1960s:

(1) Holly Woodlawn

 Holly came from Miami, Fla
Hitchhiked her way across the USA.
Plucked her eyebrows on the way
Shaved her leg and then he was she - she said:

Hey Babe, take a walk on the wild side,
Said hey honey, take a walk on the wild side.

(2) Candy Darling 

 Candy came from out on the island,
In the backroom she was everybodys darling,
But she never lost her head
Even when she was given head - she said

Hey Babe, take a walk on the wild side,
Said hey honey, take a walk on the wild side.
And the coloured girls go, doo dodoo

(3) "Little Joe" Dallesandro 


Little Joe never once gave it away,
Ev'rybody had to pay and pay.
A hustle here and a hustle there
New York city is no place where they said:

Hey Babe, take a walk on the wild side,
Said hey honey, take a walk on the wild side.

(4) "Sugar Plum Fairy" Joe Campbell

Sugar plum fairy came and hit the streets
Looking for soul food and a place to eat
Went to the Apollo, you should have seen him go go go - they said:

Hey Sugar, take a walk on the wild side,
Said hey honey, take a walk on the wild side.
 (5) Jackie Curtis.

Jackie is just speeding away,
Thought she was James Dean for a day
Then I guess she had to crash, Valium would have helped that bash - she said:

Hey Sugar, take a walk on the wild side,
Said hey honey, take a walk on the wild side.
And the coloured girls go, doo dodoo

The song's cleverly transgressive lyrics evaded radio censorship. Though the jazzy arrangement (courtesy of bassist Herbie Flowers and saxophonist Ronnie Ross) was musically somewhat atypical for Reed, it eventually became his signature song. The song came about as a result of his commission to compose a soundtrack to a theatrical adaptation of Nelson Algren's novel of the same name, though the play failed to materialize.

Ronson's arrangements brought out new aspects of Reed's songs; "Perfect Day" features delicate strings and soaring dynamics.

Though Transformer would prove to be Reed's commercial and critical pinnacle, there was no small amount of resentment in Reed devoted to the shadow the record cast over the rest of his career. A public argument between Bowie and Reed ended their working relationship for several years, though the subject of the argument is not known. The two reconciled some years later, and Reed performed with Bowie at the latter's 50th birthday concert at Madison Square Garden in 1997.

 Reed followed Transformer with the darker Berlin, which tells the story of two junkies in love in the titular city. The songs variously concern:

domestic abuse ("Caroline Says I", "Caroline Says II")

drug addiction ("How Do You Think It Feels")

adultery and prostitution ("The Kids")

and suicide ("The Bed")

After Berlin came two albums in 1974, Sally Can't Dance and a live record Rock 'n' Roll Animal, which contained performances of the Velvet Underground songs "Sweet Jane" and "Heroin". Rock 'n' Roll Animal Lou Reed Live, recorded on the same occasions in December 1973, kept Reed in the public eye with strong sales after its release in early 1975.

As he had done with Berlin after Transformer, in 1975 Reed responded to commercial success with a commercial failure, a double album of electronically generated audio feedback, Metal Machine Music. Critics interpreted it as a gesture of contempt, an attempt to break his contract with RCA or to alienate his less sophisticated fans. But Reed claimed that the album was a genuine artistic effort, even suggesting that quotations of classical music could be found buried in the feedback. Lester Bangs declared it "genius", though also as psychologically disturbing.

 Metal Machine Music, a double album of feedback loops, upon which Reed later commented: "No one is supposed to be able to do a thing like that and survive."
By contrast, 1975's Coney Island Baby was mainly a warm and mellow album, though for its characters Reed still drew on the underbelly of city life. At this time his lover was a transgender woman, Rachel, mentioned in the dedication of "Coney Island Baby"

Rock and Roll Heart, his 1976 debut for his new record label Arista, fell short of expectations

 Street Hassle (1978) was a return to form in the midst of the punk scene he had helped to inspire. But ironically Reed was dismissive of punk and rejected any affiliation with it.

"I'm too literate to be into punk rock... The whole CBGB's, new Max's thing that everyone's into and what's going on in London — you don't seriously think I'm responsible for what's mostly rubbish?"

 The Bells (1979) featured jazz musician Don Cherry,

Around this period he also appeared as a sleazy record producer in Paul Simon's film One Trick Pony.

In 1980, Reed married British designer Sylvia Morales. They were divorced more than a decade later. While together, Morales inspired Reed to write several songs, particularly "Think It Over" from 1980's Growing Up in Public

and "Heavenly Arms" from 1982's The Blue Mask.

After Legendary Hearts (1983) and New Sensations (1984) fared adequately on the charts, Reed was sufficiently reestablished as a public figure to become spokesman for Honda motorcycles.

In the early 1980s, Reed asked guitarist Robert Quine to join his group. Quine appeared on Reed's The Blue Mask (1982), acclaimed as one of Reed's best albums, and Legendary Hearts (1983). The two guitarists’ played both rhythm and lead guitar. Robert Quine eventually quit the group due to tensions with Reed. 

On September 22, 1985, Reed performed at the first Farm Aid concert in Champaign, Illinois. He performed "Doin' The Things That We Want To", "I Love You, Suzanne", and New Sensations, and "Walk on The Wild Side".

Following Warhol's death after routine surgery in 1987, Reed again collaborated with John Cale on the biographical Songs for Drella, Warhol's nickname. The album marked an end to a 22-year estrangement from Cale. On the album, Reed sings of his love for his late friend, but also criticizes both the doctors who were unable to save Warhol's life and Warhol's would-be assassin, Valerie Solanas.

 Reed released his sixteenth solo record, Magic and Loss in 1992, an album about mortality, inspired by the death of two close friends from cancer. 

In 1996, the Velvet Underground were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. At the induction ceremony, Reed performed a song entitled "Last Night I Said Goodbye to My Friend" alongside former bandmates John Cale and Maureen Tucker, in dedication to Velvet Underground guitarist Sterling Morrison, who had died the previous August. Reed has since been nominated for the Rock Hall as a solo artist twice, in 2000 and 2001, but has not been inducted.

Since the late 1990s, Reed has been romantically linked to the musician, multi-media and performance artist Laurie Anderson, and the two have collaborated on a number of recordings together. Anderson contributed to "Call On Me" from Reed's project The Raven, to the tracks "Baton Rouge" and "Rock Minuet" from Reed's Ecstasy, and to "Hang On To Your Emotions" from Reed's Set the Twilight Reeling. Reed contributed to "In Our Sleep" from Anderson's Bright Red and to "One Beautiful Evening" from her Life on a String. They married on April 12, 2008.

 In 2001, Reed made a cameo appearance in the movie adaptation of Prozac Nation.

On October 6, 2001 the New York Times published a Reed poem called Laurie Sadly Listening in which he reflects upon the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

Laurie if you're sadly listening 
The birds are on fire The sky glistening 
While I atop my roof stand watching 
Staring into the spider's clypeus 
Incinerated flesh repelling 
While I am on the rooftop yearning 
Thinking of you 

Laurie if you're sadly listening 
Selfishly I miss your missing 
The boundaties of our world now changing 
The air is filled with someone's sick reasons 
And I had thought a beautiful season was 
Upon us 

Laurie if you're sadly listening 
The phones don't work 
The bird's afire 
The smoke curls black 
I'm on the rooftop 
Liberty to my right still standing 
Laurie evil's gaunt desire is 
Upon we 

Laurie if you're sadly listening 
Know one thing above all others 
You were all I really thought of 
As the TV blared the screaming 
The deathlike snowflakes 
Sirens screaming 
All I wished was you to be holding 
Bodies frozen in time jumping 
Bird's afire 
One thing me thinking 
Laurie if you're sadly listening 
Love you 
Laurie if you're sadly listening 
Love you 

 In 2003, he released a 2-CD set, The Raven, based on "Poe-Try". Besides Reed and his band, the album featured a wide range of actors and musicians including singers David Bowie, Laurie Anderson , Ornette Coleman,  Christopher Walken, Steve Buscemi, Willem Dafoe, Amanda Plummer, Fisher Stevens and Kate Valk. The album consisted of songs written by Reed and spoken-word performances of reworked and rewritten texts of Edgar Allan Poe by the actors, set to electronic music composed by Reed. At the same time a single disc CD version of the albums, focusing on the music, was also released. and long-time idol

A few months after the release of The Raven, a new 2-CD Best Of-set was released, entitled NYC Man (The Ultimate Collection 1967-2003), which featured an unreleased version of the song "Who am I" and a selection of career spanning tracks that had been selected, remastered and sequenced under Reed's supervision.

In 2003, Reed released his first book of photographs, Emotions in Action. This work actually was made up out of two books, a larger A4-paper sized called Emotions and a smaller one called Actions which was laid into the hard cover of the former.

 "Like everything else I do, my photographs are about emotion. I'm interested in causing and recording emotion through action and interactive sequence, the sequence tells a story of sorts, a dream. I am a lyricist and my feeling for rhythm and song dictates that these photographs should not be titled or in any other way impinged upon by the written word. The visuals speak for themselves in their relationships and theme and I have no interest in the where and when of it all. These dreams exist through the viewfinder of the camera and express a reality seen only through a lens but experienced by us all in every moment of puzzlement in waking life."

In April 2007, he released Hudson River Wind Meditations, his first record of ambient meditation music. The record was released on the Sounds True record label and contains four tracks that were said to have been composed just for himself as a guidance for T'ai Chi exercise and meditation.

In May 2007 Reed performed the narration for a screening of Guy Maddin's silent film The Brand Upon the Brain

In August 2007, Reed went into the studio with The Killers in New York City to record "Tranquilize", a duet with Brandon Flowers for The Killers' b-side/rarities album, called Sawdust.

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