Lou Reed 1942- 2013
By Michael Corcoran
Editor’s note: This article was originally published October 27, 2013
Rolling Stone magazine has reported that Lou Reed, the godfather of punk rock, has died at age 71. Reed underwent a liver transplant in May.
Many Austin musicians, particularly Alejandro Escovedo, owe artistic gratitude to Reed, whose work with the Velvet Underground and authorship of such streetwise odes as “Heroin” and “Waiting For the Man” stripped away the glamour of rock stardom to show a life of drugs, sex, disenfranchisement, boredom. Reed’s music could only have come from New York City in the ’60s and ’70s before money changed Manhattan.
Among Reed’s many proteges was Austin band Okkervil River, who were tapped by the gutter Gershwin to open a concert in NYC. Reed heard the song “For Real” on the radio and tracked down songwriter Will Sheff. Reached on tour in Canada, Sheff texted back, “I divide my artistic life into two halves, before and after that moment. I grew up on Lou Reed and he was like an idol to me, though I never dreamed he would like or even hear any music I made.” A proposed collaboration never materialized, but the two became aquainted. “In person, he was gentle and affectionate and sweet, the exact opposite of the acerbic character I’d expected.The warmth and encouragement… has stayed with me for years, and I can still feel it today. He was a guiding light for me, the way he was for generations of artists for decades, all over the world.”
Former Austin Sun columnist Bill Bentley was Reed’s guy at the label when Reed was signed to Warner Brothers and the pair remained close friends after both left Warner Brothers. Bentley recalled, years ago, an appearance by Reed on the David Letterman show, which gives a glimpse of the singer’s storied caustic personality. Bandleader Paul Schaffer loves to play keyboards along with the guest musician’s band, so he was disappointed when Reed’s chosen music didn’t have a piano or organ part. “What do you want me to do?” Schaffer asked, to which Reed replied, “You know how to clap, don’t you?”
Reed was the keynote speaker at South by Southwest in 2008 and made several surprise appearances during the fest. He was treated, as he should have been, as the person who broke taboos and rode an independent streak to rock infamy. SXSW grew out of the anti-anti-establishment music of the Velvet Undergound, who brought reality to the stoned hippie daydream.
Reed’s wife Laurie Anderson was scheduled to perform with Kronos Quartet at Bass Concert Hall Oct. 16, but the show was canceled “due to unforseen circumstances” just a couple days before.