Thursday, December 17, 2009
Who's That Queer [Lou Reed]
Lou Reed is an influential American rock singer-songwriter and guitarist. He first came to prominence as the guitarist and principal singer-songwriter of The Velvet Underground (1965-1973).
An enduring but complicated figure whose shadow stretches back four decades to the very beginnings of the American rock underground, Lou Allen Reed was born on Long Island to a middle-class, suburban family - a family with whom he soon found himself at odds, as they were unable to accept his unconventional attitudes and sexually ambiguous behavior. During his teen years, they went so far as to have him confined in a mental hospital, where he was forced to endure electro-shock treatments and drug therapy as a means to ward off any nascent homosexual tendencies; somehow Reed managed to emerge from this ordeal with his attitudes intact, and, despite his parents' disapproval, continued to pursue his musical interests.
Highly influenced by R&B and early rock music, Reed performed with a number of different bands during his high school years, making his first recording as a member of the doo-wop ensemble The Shades. After high school he moved on to Syracuse University, where his interests broadened to include free jazz and other more experimental forms of music. It was at this time that Reed decided to pursue a career as a writer.
After completing his studies at Syracuse, Reed moved to New York City and took a job as a songwriter at Pickwick Records. His hit-making duties proved less than rewarding, and he soon joined forces with fellow disillusioned employee John Cale to try and create some music that was more worthwhile, eventually enlisting guitarist Sterling Morrison and drummer Angus MacLise and becoming The Velvet Underground in 1965. Later in the year MacLise quit and was replaced by Maureen Tucker, at which time the band began performing in local clubs and cafés; not long after wards they came to the attention of art prankster Andy Warhol, who, intrigued by their unconventional approach, offered to assume management duties for the band.
Warhol subsequently integrated the Velvets into his multimedia project The Exploding Plastic Inevitable, adding German vocalist Nico to the line-up and sending them out on a tour of the US and Canada in 1966. Later in the year, the band's debut was recorded within the space of one or two days; the album was eventually released by MGM in early 1967, sporting a Warhol-designed peelable banana as its cover. The strange mix of styles - and particularly the controversial subject matter dealt with in Reed's lyrics - resulted in an extremely mixed reception for the album, with sales being far from brisk. By the following year both Warhol and Nico were shed, and the band enlisted The Mothers of Invention's producer Tom Wilson to create their second album White Light/White Heat. Public and critical interest remained elsewhere. By this time, the relationship between Reed and Cale had entirely deteriorated, and Cale was fired from the band before sessions for a third album were organized.
After bringing in Doug Yule to replace Cale, Reed recorded two more albums with the Velvets in a markedly different stylistic vein: The Velvet Underground (1969) and Loaded (1970). The personal and professional dynamics of the group remained unstable, however, and in August of 1970 Reed made the decision to quit just prior to the release of Loaded. The next year was spent away from the music industry, living in his parents' house on Long Island and working for his father's accounting firm; in 1971 a contract with RCA finally initiated the launch of his solo career, and an eponymous album followed in 1972. Primarily featuring Velvets-era material, the release accordingly received the same lack of interest that had plagued his previous band.
In the hopes of avoiding the dismal response given to his first solo effort, Reed enlisted the help of long-standing Velvets fans David Bowie and Mick Ronson to create his second offering, Transformer (1972). Given a thorough glam makeover by the pair, the album featured one of his most commercially successful songs (Walk On The Wild Side) and at last provided a bit of forward momentum to his floundering career.
With the arrival of the 1980s, Reed at last managed to gain control of his self-destructive personal habits, with the result that his recorded output became far less erratic. The strong critical momentum generated in the first half of the decade by The Blue Mask (1982), Legendary Hearts (1983) and New Sensations (1984) served to cement his standing as a major American songwriter once and for all, and this status was further reinforced by later releases such as New York (1989) and Magic And Loss (1992).
In distinct contrast to his years with the Velvet Underground, in the 90s and 00s Reed found himself an established and widely-respected member of the music industry. In 2007 Reed rather unexpectedly began performing and touring a mixed media performance of his 1973 Berlin album.
Sources: Gay for Today
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