Lou Reed, Legendary Rock Musician, Dies at 71 – Why Reed Matters

Originally reported on SensibleReason.com on October 28, 2013

Legendary singer, songwriter, and guitarist Lou Reed, 71, passed away Sunday morning in the comfort of his home on Long Island. Reed’s literary agent, Andrew Wylie, and Dr. Charles Miller of the Cleveland Clinic in Ohio, where Reed had a life-saving liver transplant surgery this past May, both cited Reed’s death as a result of complications related to the liver transplant. 

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Although Reed had been sober for decades, his past drug use and addiction to alcohol left its mark on his body, causing chronic liver failure, which led to the liver transplant earlier this year. Reed was continuing treatment at the Cleveland Clinic until a few days ago, when he returned to his home in Amagansett, NY, on Long Island.

The news of Reed’s death hits the soul of the music industry hard. After joining and eventually leading the Velvet Underground in the 1960s, Reed became a major influence on generations of rock musicians of all ages. Though the band, managed under American artist Andy Worhol, was short-lived and had a slow start, Rolling Stone named their album ‘The Velvet Underground’ the 13th greatest of all time, and in 1996 they were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

Reed, in both his work with the Velvet Underground and as a solo artist, broke barriers in the music industry by tackling especially dark and taboo topics. He wasn’t shy about honestly approaching topics such as his personal drug addiction, paranoia and sexual deviancy, while also opening the door to gay and transgender people by giving them a voice — something that had rarely done by popular artists of his time. His music was both unbelievably raw and real, and that’s the way he wanted it to be.

“People say rock ‘n’ roll is constricting, but you can do anything you want, any way you want,” he told The New York Times in 1982.

“And my goal has been to make an album that would speak to people the way Shakespeare speaks to me, the way Joyce speaks to me. Something with that kind of power; something with bite to it.”

Although Reed was unconcerned with the commercial appeal of his music, it became widely imitated and idolized, influencing many rising musicians as it introduced avant garde rock and pop art to mainstream music.

“Lou Reed’s influence is one that there are really only a tiny handful of other figures who you can compare to him,” said Simon Vozick-Levinson, a senior editor at Rolling Stone.

Reed leaves behind his wife, musician Laurie Anderson, along with thousands of grieving friends and fans.

In honor of Reed, Time Magazine has put together 11 essential tracks that perfectly epitomize Reed’s musical legacy and pay a beautiful tribute to one of rock and roll’s greatest legends.

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