Lou Reed RIP: A Final Walk On the Wild Side

Iconic indie-rocker Lou Reed passed away at the age of 71 on Sunday, October 27th from complications after a recent liver transplant. Reed was married to experimental performance artist Laurie Anderson. Although Reed had only a single top-ten hit, he will be remembered for so much more.

Growing up in suburban New York, Reed’s family subjected him to electro-shock therapy to try to “cure” his bi-sexuality. He later went on to study at Syracuse University under his mentor Delmore Schwartz, before settling in to become one of New York City’s most beloved musicians and lyricists, known for his poetry as well as his prose. Perhaps most significantly, Reed was one of the founding members of The Velvet Underground, the name taken from a book on sexual practices of suburbanites. His defiant nature comes across in his songs, even though he’s also known for a monotonistic, conversational style.

In recent years, Reed pursued different avenues for his creativity. He directed a documentary about his cousin, a Holocaust survivor, and more recently, provided the voice-over for the film AKA Doc Pomus about his dear friend and lyricist, Doc Pomus. Reed’s cover of “This Magic Moment” is used for the film’s closing credits.

Reed’s biggest hit, “Walk on the Wild Side,” was from Transformer (1972), his second solo album after leaving The Velvet Underground. "Wild Side" explored the seedier side of New York, glorifying drag queens and drug dealers with an infectious bass line that will always remain instantly identifiable. It is safe to say that few songs have had such a lasting impact on musical culture.

The death of such a musical legend begs the question. If 41 years after its release, "Walk on the Wild Side" is still relevant, what songs from today’s lexicon will be around 41 years from today? Does Miley Cyrus stand a chance? Hopefully not, but only time will tell.

Lou Reed, may the colored girls go “doo, do-doo” forever more.

Rob Sabin's picture
Thanks for the great remembrance, Leslie. If Reed and "Walk" have proven impactful across the vast musical landscape, they were equally impactful as icons of the New York of the 70's. I grew up in Queens in that era, and the place he emotes in that song was always a short subway ride away, waiting for those days when my friends and I played hooky from school and went exploring. It was the same New York immortalized in Scorcese's Taxi Driver; a barren and potentially dangerous landscape where things could indeed change in a "New York minute," and where crime and homelessness shared the streets with an explosion of art and music and everything-goes self expression that was evident everywhere -- from the galleries to the grafitti. The city has become homogonized since then. There is barely a neighborhood left -- not even the old Lower East Side of the Bowery/early CBGB's days -- that has not been gentrified or at least given a chic name; I fear we are not far from the day when only the rich will inhabit Manhattan. While I can appreciate the safety of a Vegas-lit Times Square tourist trap at night and could never condone going back to a lawless, gritty city, I miss the restless hopefulness/hopelessness of that time. But that's a place I can vividly revisit everytime I hear "Walk On The Wild Side." May Lou rest in peace, and many thanks for the memories.
Mike Mettler's picture
Thank you, Leslie and Rob, for those insightful words about Lou Reed and the impact he and his work had (and still has) on you both. What many people tend to forget, or don't even know, is that Lou Reed was beyond meticulous when it came to the sound quality of the records he made during the latter half of his career. When I asked Lou's co-guitarist and producer Mike Rathke about that very topic in an interview we did back in the early '90s, he told me that he and Lou "worked hard at getting accuracy and truth in the control room so that we could accurately reproduce the tone that left our hands and pickups as purely as possible." You can hear the results of that passion for great sound on latter-period Lou albums like Magic and Loss (1992), Set the Twilight Reeling (1996), and Ecstasy (2000). Lou's work in The Velvet Underground in the '60s is seminal, and the gritty, challenging sonic character of 1967's The Velvet Underground & Nico, combined with its stark subject matter, make it one of THE best records of the rock era, and certainly one that's in my personal Top 10. I wrote an appreciation of that album and Lou's overall sonic legacy on soundbard.com, and you can read it here: http://soundbard.com/r-i-p-lou-reed-the-great-american-aural-novelist/. Good night, sweet Lou. You did what you wanted to.