Lou Reed has died, aged 71. There aren’t enough words to say how sad this is, or how much of a legend the Velvet Underground star was. But I’m going to give it a go.
One of the true marks of a genius is a willingness to push the boundaries, ignore commercial pressures and plough your own creative furrow. And Reed is one of the best examples of doing this, for better and for worse.
After all, he’s the guy who made both Walk On The Wild Side and Metal Machine Music, within the space of three years. The latter album remains one of the most remarkable and controversial releases by a major musician, almost 40 years later.
Whether it was a deliberate attempt to shrug off the casual fans he had grown irritated by or a serious attempt at a piece of art, we’ll probably never know for sure. Listening to it, it could really be either, sometimes sounding like a challenging piece of music, other times like a practical joke.
While he quickly returned to more conventional songwriting, Reed’s solo career was never straightforward, with one of his best albums, Berlin, seen as a complete disaster at the time. Time was kind to it though and I was lucky to enough to see him perform it in full at an amazing show in Manchester a few years ago.
As he grew older, his sense of adventure and restless creativity never dimmed, with some of his last recordings including the epic Poe tribute The Raven (a mixture of songs and spoken word pieces) and the bizarre and critically-mauled collaboration with Metallica.
He also spent a lot of time making meditation music, reflecting the path his personal life had taken. But throughout his career he still come up with the goods on albums like New York and Songs For Drella, the record he made with Velvet Underground cohort John Cale as a tribute to Andy Warhol.
Of course, it’s a cliche to quote Brian Eno on the influence of the Velvets, but it’s also the truth. In terms of the number of other artists they inspired, just look on Twitter, where any musician worth their salt has paid tribute to him. They may not have had the obvious impact of The Beatles, but they really were as important.
So, the music world is a lesser place for not having Lou Reed in it anymore, but it is a richer world for having him in it for so many years. He never took the easy route and we loved him all the more for it.