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Magic and loss

Lou Reed,chronicler of New York City’s dirty boulevards,embodied minimalist rock star cool.

Written by The Indian Express | Published: October 29, 2013 4:47:46 am

Lou Reed,chronicler of New York City’s dirty boulevards,embodied minimalist rock star cool.

In a famous bit of apocrypha essential to the Velvet Underground mythos,producer Brian Eno is said to have remarked that though the Velvets sold only a few thousand records in their early years,every person who bought one went on to start a band. It is an anecdote trotted out with frequency to justify the Velvets’ and Lou Reed’s inclusion in the pantheon of great musicians,but one that is unnecessary now that Reed and his band’s contribution to the sound and vocabulary of rock music is so well established.

The Velvets’ first album,The Velvet Underground and Nico,released in 1967,struck a dissonant note among the flower power-ed offerings of contemporaries,not so much challenging the musical conventions of the time as upending them. Their dark,minimalist,avant-garde sound matched Reed’s spare lyrics,anticipating glam,punk and alternative rock. A purveyor of life’s wild side,Reed chronicled New York’s demimonde,putting the experiences of transvestites,drug-users and prostitutes to tune even as he became the epitome of the transgressive,hard-living rock star. The album that cemented his reputation as a solo artist,Transformer (1972,produced by Reed fanboy David Bowie),captured Reed’s contradictions: harsh,noisy guitar (“Walk on the Wild Side”) and lush melodies (“Perfect Day”) no less vicious in their tenderness.

Ree2d made a career out of defying expectations,confounding fans and critics. The second of the Velvets’ four albums,for instance,was the corrosive White Light/ White Heat (1968),while his final turn with the band,Loaded (1970),contained the strummy “Oh! Sweet Nuthin’” and “Sweet Jane” alongside the deceptively peppy pop-strains of “Who Loves the Sun”. The operatic Berlin was followed by the brutal sonic experiment that was Metal Machine Man. To confront his catalogue is to find an artist grappling with individual expression,and producing some of the most compelling music of the last few decades.

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