Avant-garde rock icon and Amagansett resident Lou Read died on Sunday at his home in the Hamptons. Although no cause of death has been officially announced, Reed underwent liver transplant surgery in May and it is believed that his death resulted from liver disease.
Born in Brooklyn in 1942, Reed grew up in Freeport, NY and attended Syracuse University graduating in 1964. He studied under poet Delmore Swartz to whom he credited with his ability to write the clean, minimalist lyrics he would be known for throughout his career. A self taught guitarist Reed moved to New York City after graduation and was hired as an in-house songwriter at Pickwick Records producing a minor hit with “The Ostrich.”
In the late 60s he teamed up with Lower East Side roommate Welsh musician John Cale to form The Velvet Underground, a band that although never achieved commercial success proved out to be one of the most influential in rock history. Guitarist Sterling Morrison and drummer Maureen “Mo” Tucker were also members of the band whose debut album, The Velvet Underground & Nico (1967), only sold 30,000 copies landing at 171 on the charts. That said, Rolling Stone Magazine named the album the 13th most influential album of all time.
Reed left the band in 1970 and started a solo career that continued for the rest of his life producing almost two dozen albums. Transformer (1972) was probably his most successful solo effort resulting in the hit single “Walk on the Wild Side,” but Reed considered Live: Take No Prisoners (1978) his best album. Part of the underground art scene that flourished in the 1970s in NYC, Reed was a member of Andy Warhol’s cadre of artists and Reed referred to Warhol as a mentor. Lou Reed and The Velvet Underground were inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 1996.
In 2000 Reed collaborated once again with fellow Hamptonite Robert Wilson of the Watermill Center on a stage production entitled “POEtry” based on the poetry of Edgar Allen Poe which premiered at the Thalia Theater in Germany. Reed had previously collaborated with Wilson on H.G. Wells’ “The Time Machine” in 1996. Reed has appeared in films and forged a career as a gifted photographer and poet, with his poem “Laurie Sadly Listening” about the September 11 World Trade Center attack printed in The New York Times on October 6, 2001. In 2012, a bilingual (French and English) book “Lou Reed: Rimes/Rhymes” was published with a compilation of more than 300 photos by Reed.
Looking fit at the time, I saw Lou Reed most recently at the opening night party of the Chuck Close exhibit at Guild Hall as part of the 2013 Guild Hall Summer Gala in August. Close’s portrait of Reed was one of the seminal works of the exhibition. Reed incorporated multiple styles of music into his works including jazz and he was an active member of the Jazz Foundation of America. He also lent his name and time to the Free Tibet movement, among the many altruistic causes to which he was associated.
Reed is survived by his wife performance artist Laurie Anderson whom he married in 2008. One of the most influential voices in Rock & Roll, Reed has left an indelible footprint on the industry and an immeasurable impression on generations of artists, guitarists and song writers. He did indeed “Walk on the Wild Side” and fortunately took us along for the ride.