A man of many masks, Lou Reed left behind an endlessly inventive legacy that inspired uncountable artists, musicians and writers.
His death last Sunday (October 27) naturally prompted hundreds of fans, admirers and peers to put together their own eulogies to a musician who inspired, terrified and bewildered, often all at the same time. Many of the tributes came from artists held in similar esteem, like punk heroine Patti Smith and Can’s Irmin Schmidt, while dozens more were penned by less well-known musicians and writers whose lives “were saved by rock and roll”, as Reed once sang.
As well as FACT’s obituary and look back at 10 of Reed’s lesser-known gems, we’ve combed through the column inches to compile a selection of the most insightful, amusing and well-written pieces out there, for you to tuck into at your leisure. A special hat tip goes to The Wire magazine, which has published no fewer than 10 Lou Reed essays on its website in the past week.
Patti Smith, The New Yorker
Even the high priestess of punk had her influences, and Reed was up there with Hendrix and Rimbaud for Smith, who writes with candour about her “erratic” and “intense” hero: “Lou brought the sensibilities of art and literature into his music. He was our generation’s New York poet, championing its misfits as Whitman had championed its workingman and Lorca its persecuted.”
Laurie Anderson, East Hampton Star
The artist and musician who’d been Reed’s partner since the ’90s and wife since 2008 wrote an obituary for her local newspaper, stating: “I know his songs of the pain and beauty in the world will fill many people with the incredible joy he felt for life.”
Sasha Frere-Jones, The New Yorker
The big daddy of U.S. music journalism gives a personal tribute, revealing that he proposed to his wife by handing her a note saying, “I’ll be your mirror”. He writes: “Summoning courage through words was a Reed songwriting trademark. His songs are always tougher than he is, and he never disguises that.”
Matt Krefting, Huffington Post
The writer and musician offers an exceptional piece of writing that includes a couple of personal anecdotes, including sharing a stage with Reed and later bumping into him in a Bleecker Street pizzeria: “[Reed] cast no one out. The wretched were always welcome at his table, people frozen within their realities and their inability to assimilate.”
Irmin Schmidt, The Wire
The founder member of krautrock heroes Can wrote a brief and illuminating tribute revealing which Velvet Underground song inspired him to form his band.
Byron Coley, Arthur
The chronicler of America’s ’80s DIY culture offered a prose tribute elsewhere but also wrote a poem for Arthur including the lines:
this electroshocked cocksucking bastard
who put out many more lousy records than good
was the father of everyone i’ve ever known
and i never thought he’d die
and i really miss him
Ulrich Krieger of Metal Machine Trio, The Wire
German composer Ulrich Krieger detailed the process of turning Reed’s feedback tsunami Metal Machine Music into a live performance in 2008: “This piece was a serious piece of love – love of sound and the guitar. Even more so, MM3 came as a late artistic confirmation. He had been right all along. MMM had come home.”
Renée Fleming, YouTube
Amercian soprano Renée Fleming sang ‘Perfect Day’ with Reed on the 20th anniversary of the Czech Velvet Revolution, which was led by noted Velvet Underground fan Vaclav Havel (Tom Stoppard’s 2006 play Rock’n’Roll was inspired by Reed’s revolutionary influence on young Czech activists). Fleming re-posted the strangely magnetic performance on her Facebook page.
Cardinal Ravasi, Twitter
Unbelievably, even the Vatican proffered its own brief tribute in the shape of a tweet from Cardinal Gianfranco Ravasi:
Oh, it’s such a perfect day I’m glad I spend it with you Oh, such a perfect day You just keep me hanging on (Lou Reed)
— Gianfranco Ravasi (@CardRavasi) October 28, 2013