Didn't he always seem like he'd be one of the immortal ones who would never die? As the joke goes, I thought he'd be around until the very end, with Keith Richards and cockroaches once every other sign of life on earth had burned itself out. Lou Reed was the legendary Velvet Underground frontman in the 60's, a successful solo artist, unpredictable shit disturber, and near drug casualty in the 70's, and a comeback kid by the late 80's and early 90's with some of his most critically acclaimed work. He solidified his legacy throughout the 90's with the VU reunion and a handful of almost classic albums, and settled into an elder stateman of rock role in the 00's and 10's, collaborating with whoever he damn well pleased, critics be damned (which he did quite frequently, Reed was a notoriously difficult interview subject). He never compromised right up until the end, always tried to stay ahead of the curve, never went on a comfortable money grabbing greatest hits tour, he was too busy staging "Metal Machine Music" and "Berlin" and acting grumpy in photo shoots with Metallica.
Lou Reed's influence on rock and alternative music was so pervasive, it's practically incalculable. People who don't know they were influenced by Lou Reed were influenced by Lou Reed. The fact that labels like "alternative" have grown so large that they are almost meaningless is largely thanks to Lou Reed. Perhaps only Dylan can rival him in terms of helping to shape so many different genres of music across so many generations of fans and musicians.
The height of my Lou Reed/VU fandom was in 1998, I bought all the VU albums, moped around to "Berlin", devoured the "VU Companion" almost daily. That was the same year American Masters produced a documentary on his life, and the closing moments of the film contain my favourite Lou Reed lines which remained as clear and sharp in my mind over the past fifteen years as they were on the night I first heard them. At around the 71-minute mark:
Interviewer: How long can you be a rock and roller?
Reed: You see, that problem disappears if we don't call it rock and roll.
Interviewer: How long can you be a musician?
Reed: Right. What would the answer to that be?
Interviewer: Until you die.
Reed. There you go.
The self assured attitude he displays there, the mix of confidence and snideness (even in his more politely mannered moments), has always been my quintessential memory of Lou Reed, and I don't see that changing now that he's fulfilled his prophecy.
And what would this post be without a few more links:
A Night With Lou Reed (1982). Reed goes all leather jacket supper club, playing hits and songs from "The Blue Mask". So great to see him and Quine together in their better days.
Dirty Boulevard (1989). Squeezed among Roxette and Janet Jackson on weekly Much Music countdowns in 1989, needless to say I'd never heard anything remotely like this before.
The Kids (1973). Still might be the most devastating song ever recorded if you hear it in a certain mood.
Heroin (live 2012). Imagine still getting to play rock and roll like this when you're 70.
Stephanie Says (1967). Maybe the prettiest song the VU ever did, a prelude to the softer side he displayed on some of his mid-70's albums, but never bettered.