Famed Rock n Roll legend and Greenwich Village icon, Lou Reed, was born on March 2, 1942.Reed grew up on Long Island and moved to New York City at the early age of twenty and co-founded the groundbreaking band the Velvet Underground with fellow musician John Cale.
From a previous Off the Grid post on the band’s rise to stardom:
It was 1966 when Reed’s band, The Velvet Underground, was discovered by Andy Warhol playing at the Café Bizarre at 106 West 3rd Street in the South Village (now replaced by an NYU law school dormitory). Taken by their unique sound, Warhol invited the group into his world and eventually became its manager. Reed and the Velvet Underground would participate in Warhol’s traveling multimedia show, The Exploding Plastic Inevitable, held at times on St. Mark’s Place in the same space that the Electric Circus would soon occupy by the late 1960s. (Read more here.)
Their first album, The Velvet Underground & Nico, was released in 1967, with only a few thousand copies purchased in the first year. Although not initially popular outside of the New York underground scene, The Velvet Underground and Reed’s legacy went on to greatly shape the future generations of rock and roll.
The Velvet Underground broke up in 1970, but Reed never left the world of music. Reed went on as a solo artist, his own singer, songwriter and guitarist, releasing twenty two albums throughout his lifetime and managed to maintain an influential role in music history and in the Village. You can read more about Reed’s songwriting and experience in the village in an earlier Off the Grid post here.
In 1989, Reed released his 15th solo album, New York, which even today, encapsulates that era of the city’s history. Most of the album’s songs criticize the city’s shift in political climate, the decaying living conditions and social neglect.
Reed’s “Halloween Parade” highlighted the city’s painful loss from the AIDS epidemic specifically in New York City and the city government’s lack of response.
“Dirty Blvd” shed light on the story of a child in New York City unable to escape their poverty-stricken life.
The song “Xmas in February” focused on homelessness and veterans in the city.
Reed once told reporter Kristine McKenna, “I’ve always believed that there’s an amazing number of things you can do through a rock n’ roll song and that you can do serious writing in a rock song if you can somehow do it without losing the beat.” Reed’s work, as a front man for the Velvet Underground and as a solo artist, also incorporated themes concerning love, addiction, sex, drug use and joy.
Evidenced by his lifetime of creative work, Reed carried the unique ability to transcend rock music and communicate the emotionally raw aspects of the lived human experience. His work, charged with his own stories, also preserves the many perspectives of those from his generation, especially his fellow New Yorkers.
In a 1998 interview with PBS, David Bowie remarked on Reed’s work, “The verbal and musical zeitgeist that Lou created—the nature of his lyric writing being hitherto unknown in rock-and-roll—he gave us the environment in which to put our more theatrical vision—he supplied us with the street and the landscape, and we peopled it.”
Outside of the studio and venues, Reed lived in the West Village with his wife Laurie Anderson. GVSHP was honored to receive a contribution from Lou Reed for Greenwich Village Stories. In the book, Reed describes his favorite moments spent in the village, which you can read more about here.
When asked about her late husband, Anderson remarked, “We were always seeing a lot of art and music and plays and shows, and I watched as he loved and appreciated other artists and musicians. He was always so generous. He knew how hard it was to do. We loved our life in the West Village and our friends; and in all, we did the best we could do.”
Finally, in Lou’s own words from NYC Man (2003):
“New York City, how I love you, blink your eyes and I’ll be gone.”
We miss you, Lou.