Lou Reed

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Lou Reed, 2011

Lewis Allan "Lou" Reed (born March 2, 1942 in New York , † October 27, 2013 in East Hampton ) was an American songwriter , guitarist and singer . Together with John Cale he was a founding member of the influential rock band The Velvet Underground , which was promoted in the early stages by Andy Warhol . Through his work in the 1960s and 1970s, Reed earned a reputation as a pioneer in genres such as punk , noise rock and industrial .


Childhood and youth

Lou Reed, 1959

Lou Reed was born in Brooklyn and came from a conservative Jewish family originally called Rabinowitz. He grew up in Freeport on Long Island . He discovered his interest in music early on and was particularly interested in rock 'n' roll and blues during his school days . He made his first record for Bob Shads Label Time as a teenager and a member of a doo-wop band called The Jades . Because Reed allegedly had homoerotic fantasies, rebelled and rebelled as a teenager, he was sent to psychiatric treatment by his parents, in which he received electric shocks . He processed these youthful experiences in later songs, including Kill Your Sons . Reed described this phase of his life as follows: "They put something in your mouth and put electrodes on your head and ran electricity through your head, and afterwards you felt like soft-boiled vegetables."

Lou Reed soon distanced himself from his parents' home and began studying at Syracuse University , where he studied English in the early 1960s and graduated. His teacher and intellectual mentor at the university was Delmore Schwartz , with whom he was also private friend. Reed once said his goal was to transfer the sensitivity and intelligence of the novel to rock music or to realize the Great American Novel as a series of musical albums. Reed later wrote the pieces My House and European Son as a throwback to Schwartz, who had a strong influence on his later songwriting career. While studying in Syracuse, Reed also developed an interest in free jazz and experimental music such as that of La Monte Young , with whom John Cale worked.

First musical steps

Reed moved to New York in 1963 , where he worked as a songwriter for the Pickwick Records label, which produced dance music on the assembly line. In 1964 he had a small hit with The Ostrich , a parody of a dance that was currently popular. The record producers soon became aware of the young talent. That same year, Reed spontaneously founded the group The Primitives with John Cale . He had met John Cale, who was studying music, by chance in New York. Cale was surprised at the new way Reed played guitar. He had got used to tuning all the strings of his guitar equally to create a so-called drone , which harmonized with Cale's experimental music. When Cale heard the repertoire of Reed's compositions - including an early version of heroin  - the two decided to work together and create a band project.

The Velvet Underground

Reed and Cale appeared in 1965, supplemented by Sterling Morrison and Maureen Tucker , for the first time under the name The Velvet Underground. This style-defining band is inseparable from his name to this day, despite Reed's later successful solo career. Reed was co-founder and mastermind of the Andy Warhol sponsored band alongside John Cale and played guitar, sang and wrote most of the songs. Although the band was not commercially successful during its existence, The Velvet Underground is considered one of the most influential underground bands of all time and a pioneer of later independent and punk music . The debut album The Velvet Underground & Nico (the album with the well-known banana cover) with the German-born singer Nico , with whom Lou Reed was in a relationship for a short time, was a notable success . A foretaste of Reed's later work in the 1970s was the following LP White Light / White Heat , which worked with atonal feedback .

Solo career

The 1970s

After separating from Velvet Underground, Reed started his solo career in 1972 with a self-titled debut album. It mainly contains pieces that were created in the late phase of Velvet Underground. Despite good reviews, there was no commercial success. The album only reached number 189 on the US Billboard charts, while it could not even achieve a placement in the UK. Two singles were released from the album ( Going Down and Wild Child ).

In the same year Reed released the glam rock album Transformer , which was produced by David Bowie and Mick Ronson . It earned him a certain mass popularity for the first time - especially the title Walk on the Wild Side (with the baritone saxophone solo by Ronnie Ross ) is a classic today. In 1973 the album Berlin followed , which is about a failed love story between two junkies in this city. The album is characterized by its oppressive mood and includes tracks such as Caroline Says II (violence), The Kids ( prostitution and drug use), The Bed ( suicide ) and, unsurprisingly, Sad Song . Today Berlin is often regarded as his masterpiece, but at the time of its publication it met with almost complete incomprehension and horror from the press and the public. Lou Reed was so disappointed with this failure that he said he "closed the doors". In his case, it meant harsh confrontation or disdainful indifference to the rock music press, its audiences at the time, and his own commercial career for the rest of the decade. That and last but not least the exertion of the seemingly endless tours did their part to lead him to the edge of the abyss. In later interviews he nevertheless self-critically reflected on many of his excesses at the time as an expression of a somewhat infantile defiance.

In 1975 he then produced the double album Metal Machine Music , which mainly consists of guitar feedback, melody or structure are not recognizable. The album is controversial: while the Chicago Tribune saw it as a "cheap gesture against the record industry" or a "bad joke", rock journalist Lester Bangs described it as awesome. Although the cast details are fictional, Reed made it a point to note that it was thoroughly serious work. In any case, it was a previously unheard of provocation against a “major label” on the part of a record artist who was quite commercially successful at the time. The work was later transcribed for classical acoustic instruments by the Berliner Ensemble for contemporary music Zeitkratzer and premiered in Berlin in 2002.

The angry MMM was followed by the melodically smooth album Coney Island Baby , which brought him back to the charts. Reed's records from the late 1970s are seen by critics as less successful and rather unbalanced. This is attributed to his increasing drug problems and the fact that the record companies gave Reed little leeway in terms of music.

The 1980s

In the early 1980s, Reed gave up the self-destructive life and endless tours in order to focus on more important things for him, such as his acclaimed comeback album The Blue Mask . He married Sylvia Morales; she then became his long-time manager. This about-face to a more mature, more sober and therefore less sensational lifestyle and work discipline was reflected in his rather calm and serene records of this decade. This once again met with harsh criticism in the rock music press, for which he was often regarded as the epitome of the merciless rebel. However, Reed had announced early on that he would rather focus on the long-term and self-control and that he was very critical of the rather ambiguous role of the "rock and roll victim".

The 1990s

Lou Reed in Málaga, 2008

With his very successful 1989 album New York , Reed fired an angry volley on the political problems in his hometown, for example on issues such as pollution, social injustice and racism. He didn't stop at naming names in his songs, e.g. B. Jesse Jackson , Pope John Paul II , Kurt Waldheim and Stevie Wonder . Former Velvet Underground drummer Moe Tucker played drums on two tracks.

When Andy Warhol, the former sponsor and producer of the Velvet Underground, died, after a 15-year hiatus, there was again a collaboration with the second sound-defining head of the Velvet Underground, John Cale . The result was the album Songs for Drella , a Warhol biography and a self-portrait in minimalist rock music. Here the lyrics convey a touching affection and painful confessions without losing humor. The attack on Warhol by Valerie Solanas in 1968, his strict work ethic, his unexpected loneliness in the midst of success and glamor, his small weaknesses and possible medical malpractice are not left out. In 1993 there was a surprising reunion of The Velvet Underground. It was quite successful with the audience, but only for a short time, as the old tensions and differences within the group quickly broke up again.

Reed carried on his dark notes with Magic and Loss , an album about the death and loss of some friends due to cancer . In 1997 over thirty artists covered the song Perfect Day for the BBC Foundation Children in Need .

The 2000s

Together with Robert Wilson , who was responsible for the scenic concept, Reed created the play POEtry , which was premiered in 2000 at the Thalia Theater in Hamburg . Reed wrote the libretto , lyrics, and music for the three-hour piece. The title POEtry is a play on words from POE for Edgar Allan Poe and poetry , the English word for poetry or poetry . In 2001, Reed was the victim of a hoax claiming his death from a heroin overdose. Based on the work of Edgar Allan Poe, he released the double CD The Raven in 2003 , on which artists such as Laurie Anderson , Ornette Coleman , David Bowie , Julian Schnabel , Willem Dafoe and Antony participated. A remix of his song Satellite of Love (called Satellite of Love '04 ) by Groovefinder was released in 2004 and peaked at number 10 on the UK singles chart. In 2007 he recorded the title Tranquilize with the band The Killers . The European tour planned for October 2009 with his newly founded band Metal Machine Trio (Krems, Wrocław, Bern, Leipzig, Hamburg, Berlin) was, according to his London agency Primary Talent International, for “serious personal issues”. called off.

After an appearance with Metallica on the occasion of the induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2009, Lou Reed recorded the album Lulu with this band , which was released worldwide on October 31, 2011.

Style and effect

Lou Reed's themes were way ahead of rock music of its time. Reed only reached popular music with the emergence of punk in the mid and late 1970s, but even then his songs were unique: either overlaid with guitar feedback or delicately melodic; Reed usually sings about the unsettling to the shabby, not only within the established society, but also within the counterculture of the time or the "underground". Walk on the Wild Side is an ironic salute to the underdogs, hustlers and transvestites in Andy Warhol's The Factory . Perfect Day was later included in the soundtrack of the film Trainspotting . Subjects that dealt with Allen Ginsberg , William S. Burroughs and Jean Genet , Lou Reed took on and developed them further.

Reed was always a strong artistic personality who rarely adapted to the prevailing zeitgeist. He preferred black leather and sadomasochistic outfits during the optimistic, colorful hippie era of the 1960s. This outfit was perhaps an optical equivalent of his consciously skeptical, distant attitude of the urban realist. He is also characterized by a cutting dry humor tinted with self-irony that permeates his texts and other expressions. The main theme of his laconic performed songs is again and again the "damaged life" in the urban jungle, but also in the apparently intact suburban idyll. His characters are mostly entangled in their insoluble contradictions or emotional abysses.

The tenor of his lyrics is pessimistic without illusion, but more compassionate than cynical. However, his sympathy does not apply to journalists, whom he repeatedly dismissed until his death as a highly ignorant, insincere and intrusive species and who were often the preferred target of his dreaded quick-wittedness and directness. Like Warhol or a Fluxus artist , he let the annoying interviews turn into small artistic performances by completely undermining the expectations of the questioner.

Lou Reed was considered a bellicose and unpredictable artist. In the last few decades he felt that rock music was being increasingly restricted in terms of content and music, and he sought collaboration with colleagues or friends from other areas such as B. Paul Auster , Julian Schnabel , Philip Glass , Jim Jarmusch , Robert Wilson or Wim Wenders to explore new possibilities for yourself.


Reed's first marriage to Bettye Kronstadt was short-lived and broke up during the Berlin shoot in 1973. From 1976 to 1978 Reed was in a relationship with a trans woman named Rachel, who is mentioned by name in his song Coney Island Baby ("I'd like to send this one out to Lou and Rachel, and all the kids at PS one ninety- two ”) and is considered a muse for several songs on his album of the same name . Reed spoke openly about his homosexuality during this time . On Valentine's Day 1980, he married Sylvia Morales , whom he had met in an S / M club in Greenwich Village . He left her after meeting the American performance artist Laurie Anderson in Munich in 1992 . He and Anderson became a couple in 1995 and have lived together in the West Village ever since . They finally got married on April 12, 2008 in Boulder, Colorado .

Reed, who suffered from chronic liver failure attributed to decades of alcohol and drug use, underwent a liver transplant in the spring of 2013 . He died of illness on October 27, 2013 at his summer home in the Hamptons .


As a member of The Velvet Underground, Reed was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1996 . Patti Smith gave the laudatory speech at the ceremony . In 2015, Reed was also inducted into this Hall of Fame as a solo artist.

The influential music magazine Rolling Stone names Reed in several of their leaderboards. While The Velvet Underground is ranked 19th of the 100 most famous artists, all four albums that Reed had recorded as a member of the band were included in the list of the 500 best albums of all time, with The Velvet Underground & Nico ranked 13th, White Light / White Heat ranked 293, The Velvet Underground ranked 314 and Loaded ranked 110. Two albums that Reed recorded as a solo artist, Transformer and Berlin , were also included in this list at number 194 and 344, respectively, although the latter album had been called a "disaster" by the same magazine thirty years earlier.

In 2004 Rolling Stone named him 52nd among the 100 best guitarists , and in 2011 he was 81st. In the list of the 100 best singers , Reed has been 62nd since 2005. In 2015, the magazine placed him 21st of the 100 best songwriters of all Times .

For the twentieth anniversary of the Velvet Revolution in November 2009, Václav Havel invited Lou Reed, whom he had long admired , to Prague alongside Joan Baez , Suzanne Vega and Renée Fleming . Havel paid tribute to them with the words: “These artists are known for their free thinking. They have always been on the side of freedom, and many of them have expressed their solidarity in darker times. ” Metal Machine Music was included on The Wire's“ 100 Records That Set the World on Fire (While No One Was Listening) ” .

In 2012 a spider genus (Loureedia) and in 2015 an asteroid ((270553) Loureed ) were named after him.


Lou Reed's photographic works, depicting his love for his hometown New York, have been published in Emotion in Action (2003) and Lou Reed's New York (2006).

Reed was a master of shadow boxing , tai chi chuan. Since the 1980s he practiced Tai Chi in the Chen style and studied for a few years with the Chinese master Ren Guang Yi.


Studio albums

year title Top ranking, total weeks, awardChart placementsChart placements
(Year, title, rankings, weeks, awards, notes)
1972 Lou Reed - - - - US189 (2 weeks)
First published: 1972
Transformer - - - UK13

(40 weeks)UK
US29 (32 weeks)
First publication: 1972
number 194 of the Rolling Stone 500
in the UK, republished several times, again reached number 16 in 1998.
Sales: + 400,000
1973 Berlin - - - UK7th

(5 weeks)UK
US98 (11 weeks)
First published: 1973
344th place in the Rolling Stone 500.
Sales: + 60,000
1974 Sally Can't Dance - - - - US10 (14 weeks)
First published: 1974
1975 Metal Machine Music - - - - -
First published: July 1975
Coney Island baby - - - UK52 (1 week)
US41 (14 weeks)
First published: February 1976
1976 Rock and Roll Heart - - - - US64 (8 weeks)
First published: November 1976
1978 Street Hassle - - - - US89 (9 weeks)
First published: 1978
1979 The Bells - - - - US130 (4 weeks)
First published: 1979
1980 Growing Up in Public - - - - US158 (5 weeks)
First published: 1980
1982 The Blue Mask DE52 (1 week)
- - - US169 (4 weeks)
First published: 1982
1983 Legendary Hearts - - - - US159 (7 weeks)
First published: 1983
1984 New sensations - - - UK92 (1 week)
US56 (32 weeks)
First published: 1984
1986 Mistrial - - - UK69 (1 week)
US47 (21 weeks)
First published: 1986
1989 new York DE19 (16 weeks)
AT8 (12 weeks)

(14 weeks)CH

(22 weeks)UK

(22 weeks)US
First published: 1989
Sales: + 1,295,000
1992 Magic and Loss DE17 (15 weeks)
AT9 (11 weeks)
CH10 (13 weeks)
UK6 (6 weeks)
US80 (7 weeks)
First published: January 14, 1992
1996 Set the Twilight Reeling DE18 (14 weeks)
AT23 (7 weeks)
CH16 (8 weeks)
UK26 (2 weeks)
US110 (3 weeks)
First published: February 20, 1996
2000 Ecstasy DE24 (6 weeks)
AT48 (2 weeks)
CH76 (1 week)
UK54 (1 week)
US183 (1 week)
First published: April 4, 2000
2003 The Raven DE45 (3 weeks)
AT68 (3 weeks)
CH64 (2 weeks)
- -
First published: January 28, 2003
2007 Hudson River Wind Meditations - - - - -
First published: 2007

gray hatching : no chart data available for this year

With The Velvet Underground

For the full discography of "The Velvet Underground" see The Velvet Underground # Discography .


Guest appearances


  • Diane Clapton: Lou Reed & The Velvet Underground. 1987.
  • Peter Doggett: Lou Reed. Biography. 1999.
  • Jeremy Reed: Waiting for the Man, a Biography of Lou Reed. 1994.
  • Lou Reed: The Raven. (Libretto) 2003.
  • Lou Reed: lyrics . From the American by Diedrich Diederichsen . Kiepenheuer and Witsch, Cologne 1992, ISBN 3-462-02204-0 .
  • Lou Reed: Pass Thru Fire - The Collected Lyrics. 2006.
  • Chris Roberts: Lou Reed. Walk on the Wild Side. The Stories Behind the Songs . Carlton Books, London 2004.
  • Victor Bockris : Transformer. The complete Lou Reed story . Schuster & Schuster, New York 1999 (German title: Lou Reed. Transformer. The exclusive biography . Hannibal Verlag, Innsbruck 2014).

Web links

Commons : Lou Reed  - collection of pictures, videos and audio files


  1. a b Amanda Holpuch: Lou Reed's widow breaks silence with obituary in local newspaper. In: theguardian.com. October 31, 2013, accessed April 25, 2016 .
  2. Lou Reed quoted in: Legs McNeil and Gillian McCain: Please Kill Me: The Uncensored Oral History of Punk. Grove Press, New York 1996, ISBN 0-8021-1588-8 , p. 4: “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 then 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 seventeen and have to go right back to page one again. "
  3. Victor Bockris: Lou Reed. The biography. Fully revised edition. Vintage, London 1995, ISBN 0-09-930381-7 .
  4. Mark Deming: Metal Machine Music , Allmusic , accessed December 6, 2016.
  5. Greg Kot: Guide to Lou Reed's recordings , chicagotribune.com, October 27, 2013, accessed December 6, 2016.
  6. ^ "Lulu" website. September 24, 2011, accessed September 25, 2011 .
  7. ^ Aidan Levy: Dirty Blvd.: The Life and Music of Lou Reed . Chicago Review Press, Chicago 2016, ISBN 978-1-61373-109-3 .
  8. ^ David Bowman, Looking Back at Lou Reed's Blue Period . March 15, 1999 on observer.com
  9. ^ Barbara Hoffman: Visit the cafe where Laurie Anderson and Lou Reed dined weekly . On April 12, 2015 on nypost.com
  10. Albin Zak: The Velvet Underground companion: Four decades of commentary. Schirmer Books and Prentice Hall International, London and New York 1997, ISBN 0-02-864627-4 , pp. 102 f.
  11. James Fanelli: Lou Reed Leaves West Village and Hamptons Homes to Laurie Anderson ( Memento of the original from April 24, 2016 in the Internet Archive ) Info: The archive link has been inserted automatically and has not yet been checked. Please check the original and archive link according to the instructions and then remove this notice. . On November 4, 2013 on dnainfo.com @1@ 2Template: Webachiv / IABot / www.dnainfo.com
  12. Steve Helling: Lou Reed and Laurie Anderson Wed . On April 25, 2008 on people.com
  13. Patrick Sawer: Lou Reed saved by liver transplant after years of drugs and alcohol take their toll. In: telegraph.co.uk. June 1, 2013, accessed April 25, 2016 .
  14. Ben Ratliff: Outsider Whose Dark, Lyrical Vision Helped Shape Rock 'n' Roll. In: The New York Times . October 27, 2013, accessed April 25, 2016 .
  15. Timothy Greenfield-Sanders : Lou Reed's last official portrait. (No longer available online.) In: greenfield-sanders.com. March 4, 2014, archived from the original on April 25, 2016 ; Retrieved April 25, 2016 . Info: The archive link was inserted automatically and has not yet been checked. Please check the original and archive link according to the instructions and then remove this notice. @1@ 2Template: Webachiv / IABot / www.greenfield-sanders.com
  16. ^ Julian Casablancas: The Velvet Underground - 100 Greatest Artists. Rolling Stone , accessed March 18, 2016 .
  17. 500 Greatest Albums of All Time . May 31, 2012 on rollingstone.com
  18. ^ Stephan Davis: Berlin . December 20, 1973 on rollingstone.com
  19. David Fricke: 100 Greatest Guitarists: David Fricke's Picks - 52: Lou Reed . In 2011 on rollingstone.com
  20. 100 Greatest Guitarists - 81: Lou Reed . On December 18, 2015 on rollingstone.com
  21. 100 Greatest Singers - 62: Lou Reed . On December 2, 2010 on rollingstone.com
  22. The 100 Greatest Songwriters of All Time. Rolling Stone , August 2015, accessed August 8, 2017 .
  23. Jakob Lemke: Revolution and Rock Music - Havel Gala in Prague. In: Hamburger Abendblatt , November 15, 2009.
  24. Sergio Prostak: New Genus of Velvet Spider Named after Lou Reed . On May 23, 2012 on sci-news.com
  25. 270553 Loureed (2002 GG178) . On June 4, 2015 on ssd.jpl.nasa.gov
  26. Laurie Anderson: For Lou Reed . October 31, 2013 on easthamptonstar.com
  27. Martha Burr: Lou Reed: A Walk on the Wild Side of Tai Chi . In: Kungfu Magazine , May / June 2003. ( Online . At kungfumagazine.com, accessed April 26, 2016)
  28. Chart sources: DE AT CH UK US
  29. Lou Reed: "Rock and Roll Heart" ( Memento of the original from May 26, 2011 in the Internet Archive ) Info: The archive link was inserted automatically and has not yet been checked. Please check the original and archive link according to the instructions and then remove this notice. . On June 4, 2015 on greenfield-sanders.com @1@ 2Template: Webachiv / IABot / www.greenfield-sanders.com