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Lou Reed Dead At 71

He Fronted Velvet Underground Before Embarking On Solo Career

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork/AP) — Lou Reed, the punk-poet of rock n’ roll who profoundly influenced generations of musicians as leader of the 1960s cult band Velvet Underground and remained a vital solo performer for decades after, has died.

Reed’s literary agent Andrew Wylie said the legendary musician died Sunday morning in Southampton, Long Island, at age 71, of an ailment related to his recent liver transplant. Reed shared a home in Southampton with his wife and fellow musician, Laurie Anderson, whom he married in 2008.

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Tributes to Reed poured out across Twitter Sunday.

As CBS 2’s Cindy Hsu reported, Velvet Underground drummer Maureen Tucker also talked Sunday about how she will remember the hard-living revolutionary.

“Working with Lou sometimes could be trying — never to me. We learned from each other. We all learn from each other without even realizing it,” she said. “Lou was generous, encouraging, thoughtful, and I loved him very much.”

New Yorkers were also mourning Reed’s loss in Washington Square Park with an acoustic song circle Sunday.

“Just thinking back to all the musical score for a lot of very important days of my life, and then he’s there,” said Todd Marcus of TriBeCa.

“It will be a great loss, because it’s an inspiration to the kind of group music that we actually perform,” added Dan June of Forest Hills, Queens.

The Florida-based band Surface to Air Missive, who were playing the Music Hall of Williamsburg this weekend, are also among those who looked up to Reed.

“He was the first person I ever heard music that made me kick over an amp,” bandmember Taylor Ross said.

Music Hall Of Williamsburg

The band Surface to Air Missive was remembering the late Lou Reed at the Music Hall of Williamsburg Sunday. (Credit: Gary Baumgarten/1010 WINS)

Reed never approached the commercial success of such superstars as the Beatles and Bob Dylan, but no songwriter to emerge after Dylan so radically expanded the territory of rock lyrics. And no band did more than the Velvet Underground to open rock music to the avant-garde — to experimental theater, art, literature and film, to William Burroughs and Kurt Weill, to John Cage and Andy Warhol, Reed’s early patron.

As 1010 WINS’ Gary Baumgarten reported, Rolling Stone Magazine called Reed and the Velvets the most influential of all time. The punk, New Wave and alternative rock movements of the 1970s, ’80s and ’90s were all indebted to Reed, whose songs were covered by R.E.M., Nirvana, Patti Smith and countless others, the Associated Press’ Hillel Italie reported.

“The first Velvet Underground record sold 30,000 copies in the first five years,” Brian Eno, who produced albums by Roxy Music and Talking Heads among others, once said. “I think everyone who bought one of those 30,000 copies started a band!”

Reed’s trademarks were a monotone of surprising emotional range and power; slashing, grinding guitar; and lyrics that were complex, yet conversational, designed to make you feel as if Reed were seated next to you. Known for his cold stare and gaunt features, he was a cynic and a seeker who seemed to embody downtown Manhattan culture of the 1960s and `70s and was as essential a New York artist as Martin Scorsese or Woody Allen.

Reed’s New York was a jaded city of drag queens, drug addicts and violence, but it was also as wondrous as any Allen comedy, with so many of Reed’s songs explorations of right and wrong and quests for transcendence.

He had one top 20 hit, “Walk on the Wild Side.” Many other Reed songs that became standards among his admirers, from “Heroin” and “Sweet Jane” to “Pale Blue Eyes,” “All Tomorrow’s Parties” and “Satellite of Love.”

Raised on doo-wop and Carl Perkins, Delmore Schwartz and the Beats, Reed helped shape the punk ethos of raw power, the alternative rock ethos of irony and droning music and the art-rock embrace of experimentation, whether the dual readings of Beat-influenced verse for “Murder Mystery,” or, like a passage out of Burroughs’ “Naked Lunch,” the orgy of guns, drugs and oral sex on the Velvets’ 15-minute “Sister Ray.”

An outlaw in his early years, Reed would eventually perform at the White House, have his writing published in The New Yorker, be featured by PBS in an “American Masters” documentary and win a Grammy in 1999 for Best Long Form Music Video. The Velvet Underground was inducted into the Rock and Roll of Fame in 1996 and their landmark debut album, “The Velvet Underground & Nico,” was added to the Library of Congress’ registry in 2006.

Reed called one song “Growing Up in Public” and his career was an ongoing exhibit of how any subject could be set to rock music – the death of a parent (“Standing On Ceremony), AIDS (“The Halloween Parade”), some favorite movies and plays (“Doin’ the Things That We Want To”), racism (“I Want to be Black”), the electroshock therapy he received as a teen (“Kill Your Sons”).

Reviewing Reed’s 1989 topical album “New York,” Village Voice critic Robert Christgau wrote that “the pleasure of the lyrics is mostly tone and delivery – plus the impulse they validate, their affirmation that you can write songs about this stuff. Protesting, elegizing, carping, waxing sarcastic, forcing jokes, stating facts, garbling what he just read in the Times, free-associating to doomsday, Lou carries on a New York conversation – all that’s missing is a disquisition on real estate.”

Reed was one of rock’s archetypal tough guys, but he grew up middle class – an accountant’s son raised on Long Island. Reed was born to be a suburban dropout. He hated school, loved rock n’ roll, fought with his parents and attacked them in song for forcing him to undergo electroshock therapy as a supposed “cure” for being bisexual – an experience he described in Legs McNeil and Gillian McCain’s 1996 punk history compendium, “Please Kill Me.”

“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,” Reed said in the book. “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.”

Reed’s real break began in college. At Syracuse University, he studied under Schwartz, whom Reed would call the first “great man” he ever encountered. He credited Schwartz with making him want to become a writer and to express himself in the most concrete language possible. Reed honored his mentor in the song “My House,” recounting how he connected with the spirit of the late, mad poet through a Ouija board. “Blazing stood the proud and regal name Delmore,” he sang.

Reed moved to New York City after college and traveled in the pop and art worlds, working as a house songwriter at the low-budget Pickwick Records and putting in late hours in downtown clubs. One of his Pickwick songs, the dance parody “The Ostrich,” was considered commercial enough to record. Fellow studio musicians included a Welsh-born viola player, John Cale, with whom Reed soon performed in such makeshift groups as the Warlocks and the Primitives.

“The first time Lou played ‘Heroin’ for me it totally knocked me out. The words and music were so raunchy and devastating,” Cale said in “Please Kill Me.” “What’s more, Lou’s songs fit perfectly with my concept of music. Lou had these songs where there was an element of character assassination going on. He had a strong identification with the characters he was portraying. It was Method acting in song.”

The pair was joined by a friend of Reed’s from Syracuse, guitarist-bassist Sterling Morrison; and by an acquaintance of Morrison’s, drummer Maureen Tucker, who tapped out simple, hypnotic rhythms while playing standing up. They renamed themselves the Velvet Underground after a Michael Leigh book about the sexual subculture. By the mid-1960s, they were rehearsing at Warhol’s “Factory,” a meeting ground of art, music, orgies, drug parties and screen tests for films that ended up being projected onto the band while it performed, part of what Warhol called the “Floating Plastic Inevitable.”

“Warhol was the great catalyst,” Reed told BOMB magazine in 1998. “It all revolved around him. It all happened very much because of him. He was like a swirl, and these things would come into being: Lo and behold multimedia. There it was. No one really thought about it, it was just fun.”

Reed’s classic “Walk on the Wild Side” told a graphic story of five “superstars” at Warhol’s “Factory” — transgender actresses Holly Woodlawn and Candy Darling, underground film actor Joe Dallesandro, drag performer Jackie Curtis, and Joe Campbell, who played a character called “Sugar Plum Fairy” in a 1965 film called “My Hustler.”