Lou Reed, the tragically hip, eternally cool songwriter and musician whose friendships, collaborations and rivalries with the likes of John Cale, David Bowie and Iggy Pop helped define, expand and elevate rock music from the mid-'60s to the present, has died. Reed's death was confirmed to The New York Times by his literary agent, who said he had died earlier Sunday on Long Island. He was 71 and had received a liver transplant earlier this year.
Along with Cale, Sterling Morrison -- who much later became a UT-Austin professor and tugboat captain in the Houston Ship Channel -- and drummer Angus MacLise (quickly replaced by Morrison's friend Maureen Tucker), Reed founded the Velvet Underground in 1964 in New York City. Although not a great commercial success at first, their streetwise narratives and relentless experimentation helped sow the seeds of a form of rock that would see much greater mainstream popularity starting in the late '80s. The band's 1967 debut album The Velvet Underground & Nico also made them the most iconic New York band until the Ramones came along a decade later.
The list of bands and musicians bearing the mark of Reed and the Velvets starts with Bowie, who produced Reed's 1972 Transformer. Ironically, it gave him his lone Top 40 hit, "Walk On the Wild Side," but his influence as a rock songwriter is matched only by Bob Dylan, Neil Young, Bruce Springsteen and maybe one or two others. It extends like a main power cable through glam-rock, punk, New Wave and alternative music, thanks to '70s and '80s albums such as Coney Island Baby, Street Hassle, The Blue Mask, Mistrial and New York.
Even 1976's inexplicable, distortion-soaked Metal Machine Music became a touchstone for the obstreperous genre known as "noise-rock."
A comparatively short list of artists soaking up Reed's influence includes Television, Joy Division, U2, R.E.M., The Cure, My Bloody Valentine, the Jesus and Mary Chain, Sonic Youth and the Strokes. It even reaches into the world of metal -- Reed's last major album was 2011 Metallica collaboration Lulu. Although it was critically panned and commercially stillborn, it showed Reed was unafraid to challenge both himself and his audience, something he had been demonstrating for almost half a century by then.
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Despite his almost omnipresent influence, Reed's experiences in Houston appear to have been very limited. The Velvet Underground played legendary Chenevert St. venue Liberty Hall very late in the band's run, two nights in August 1971 -- by which point Reed had left the group. According to rockinhouston.com, Reed also played solo shows at the Music Hall in November 1974 and UH's Cullen auditorium in April 1978. He played SXSW in 1996 behind his new album at the time, Set the Twilight Reeling, and gave the keynote address for the conference in 2008.