Rock's Revolutionary Poet, Lou Reed, Leaves Behind a 'Great American Novel'

His music was at once simple, loud, beautiful, difficult and always pushing the culture faster than it was ready to move.

Lou Reed’s best songs, whether originating with the Velvet Underground or during his multifaceted solo career, would inspire generations of iconic musicians. David Bowie, U2’s Bono and the Cowboy Junkies were all fans. So was Talking Heads frontman David Byrne, who once said he decided he could became a musician only after hearing Reed sing.

Thinking back on Reed’s music — many of his songs weren’t hits until years after their release — one instantly remembers “Sweet Jane,” “Pale Blue Eyes” and, of course, “Take a Walk on the Wild Side,” which blends the peaceful cadence of tropical waves with poetic lyrics about sex and hustling. It’s a memoir of the Andy Warhol art-industrial complex, performed by the man who fronted what was essentially Warhol’s house band. Only a talent like Reed could describe the unforgiving predation of New York with such honest nostalgia and romance.

But his body of work includes dozens of lesser known gems. A Reed cover of The Drifters’ “This Magic Moment” is a great example of his almost spoken-word vocals and stripped down musical minimalism.

He was a truly great artist who knew it. Rolling Stone remembers that Reed once said, “My bullshit is worth more than other people’s diamonds.” He also said, looking back on his career, “All through this, I’ve always thought that if you thought of all of it as a book then you have the Great American Novel, every record as a chapter. They’re all in chronological order. You take the whole thing, stack it and listen to it in order, there’s my Great American Novel.”

Millions of fans, some of whom would go on to have millions of their own, would agree.

Lou Reed died Sunday. He was 71.

— Posted by Peter Z. Scheer

Peter Z. Scheer
Managing Editor
Peter Scheer grew up in the newspaper business, spending family vacations with his mother at newspaper editors' conferences, enjoying daycare in editorial departments and begrudgingly reviewing his father's…
Peter Z. Scheer

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