Lou Reed: A true musical rebel who treated authority - and journalists - with genuine disdain

Hugely influential singer-songwriter who found fame with the Velvet Underground dies aged 71 after liver transplant

“Was it too quiet for you, asshole?” Lou Reed asked with acidic contempt, when I saw him play for the last time, at London’s Royal Festival Hall two summers ago. An unwary fan had just ironically shouted “Louder!” as he finished a brutally heavy version of “Brandenburg Gate”, from his typically reputation-abusing last album, Lulu.

Click here or on 'view gallery' to see Lou Reed: A Life in Pictures

That suite of songs about the fictional prostitute immortalised by Louise Brooks in the 1928 Weimar German film Pandora’s Box, drawled by Reed over Metallica’s wildly inappropriate, uncompromised heavy metal, was despised in a way the latest releases by Paul McCartney and Neil Young never were.

The response was closer to when Reed first announced himself, in the Velvet Underground’s Warhol-sponsored, 1967 debut album The Velvet Undergound and Nico. His deadpan voice, striking out from Dylan’s example into a Sinatra-murdering morgue for traditional vocal requirements, was one innovation.

His lyrics on “I’m Waiting for the Man” and “Heroin” were truly vital, with literate reportage from the depths of drug addiction and sadomasochism. “Rock’n’roll had been treated as such a mutant idiot child medium, it made it easy for someone with even half a mind to just walk in and dominate that end of it,” he sneered to Cut magazine in 1989, when New York gave him his last wholly liked hit.

Sinatra had played Algren’s novel’s taboo-smashing junkie in the film of The Man With the Golden Arm. Reed became him. A middle-class Jewish intellectual by background, too much parentally-approved ECT voltage meant to cure his rebel streak as a teenager instead carved an unsealable, bleeding scar of resentment. The trademark black leather jacket he rehabilitated from Marlon Brando’s 1950s rebel to the softer streets of Greenwich Village showed that his heart always had room for the original promise of rock’n’roll, if nothing else.

Metal Machine Music, 1975’s double-album feedback screech of abuse at his major-label employers RCA, was one more, career-exploding atom bomb. Reed fan David Bowie’s prettifying production on 1972’s Transformer, with its further gorgeous standards about Manhattan sex and drugs, “Perfect Day” and “Walk on the Wild Side”, had made the label think they had a star. 1973’s follow-up, Berlin, confirmed Reed was a black hole. Its portrait of a doomed relationship included children weeping at their parents’ behaviour. Anyone else would have broken “both her arms”, Reed sang provocatively of his partner in the gruelling song-suite’s gorgeous, depraved “Sad Song”. Berlin came to stand for any personal apocalypse, and any rock musician’s refusal to bow to his label’s authority.

Reed didn’t seem happy for a day of his life; except when he was wrecking someone else’s day by being too entirely himself, which was rarely a likeable proposition. When I met him, his disdain for me was completed by the wet-fish hand he held out when we finished. No doubt he wiped it afterwards. The rock journalists who adored him were always treated as vermin, typically because, beneath the impacably abusive surface, he cared too much. “He was heartbroken,” Melody Maker’s Allan Jones recalled of Reed’s attitude to Berlin’s journalistic dismissal. “He never forgave them.”

The anger I felt at his rudeness was anyway wiped away the next time I saw him, at that Royal Festival Hall gig. He could seem humourless, needlessly vicious, unforgivable. But that was the upside. He clung to rock’n’roll as a life-raft for his damaged soul, and threw out his literary brand of it for those who, similarly afflicted, needed such musical shock therapy. His last few records - 2000’s raging break-up album Ecstasy, 2003’s The Raven, another tauntingly aggravating double-album, adapted from Edgar Allen Poe, and that Metallica record - were not farewells, so much as fuck-offs. The outpouring of reverence and sorrow which will follow Reed’s death is deserved. It would also make him howl with hollow laughter.

Arts and Entertainment
Saw point: Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence in ‘Serena’
film
Arts and Entertainment
Taylor Swift performs at the 2014 iHeart Radio Music Festival
musicReview: 1989's songs attempt to encapsulate dramatic emotional change in a few striking lines
Arts and Entertainment
Paul Anderson plays Arthur Shelby in Peaky Blinders series two
tvReview: Arthur Shelby Jr seems to be losing his mind as his younger brother lets him run riot in London
Arts and Entertainment
Miranda Hart has called time on her award-winning BBC sitcom, Miranda
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Sir Nicholas Serota has been a feature in the Power 100 top ten since its 2002 launch
art
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Boy George performing with Culture Club at Heaven

musicReview: Culture Club performs live for first time in 12 years

Arts and Entertainment
Laura Wood, winner of the Montegrappa Scholastic Prize for New Children’s Writing
books

Children's bookseller wins The Independent's new author search

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Pulling the strings: Spira Mirabilis

music
Arts and Entertainment
Neville's Island at Duke of York's theatre
musicReview: The production has been cleverly cast with a quartet of comic performers best known for the work on television
Arts and Entertainment
Banksy's 'The Girl with the Pierced Eardrum' in Bristol

art
Arts and Entertainment
Lynda Bellingham stars in her last Oxo advert with on-screen husband Michael Redfern

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Hunger Games actress Jena Malone has been rumoured to be playing a female Robin in Batman v Superman

film
Arts and Entertainment
Tim Minchin portrait
For a no-holds-barred performer who is scathing about woolly thinking and oppressive religiosity, Tim Minchin is surprisingly gentle
Arts and Entertainment
Clara takes the lead in 'Flatline' while the Doctor remains in the Tardis
tvReview: The 'Impossible Girl' earns some companion stripes... but she’s still annoying in 'Dr Who, Flatline'
Arts and Entertainment
Joy Division photographed around Waterloo Road, Stockport, near Strawberry Studios. The band are Bernard Sumner (guitar and keyboards), Stephen Morris (drums and percussion), Ian Curtis (vocals and occasional guitar), Peter Hook (bass guitar and backing vocals).
books
Arts and Entertainment
Sean Harris in 'The Goob' film photocall, at the Venice International Film Festival 2014
filmThe Bafta-winner talks Hollywood, being branded a psycho, and how Streisand is his true inspiration
Arts and Entertainment
X Factor contestant Fleur East
tvReview: Some lacklustre performances - but the usual frontrunners continue to excel
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Tuttle's installation in the Turbine Hall at the Tate Modern
artAs two major London galleries put textiles in the spotlight, the poor relation of the creative world is getting recognition it deserves
Arts and Entertainment
Hunger Games actress Jena Malone has been rumoured to be playing a female Robin in Batman v Superman
film
Arts and Entertainment
On top of the world: Actress Cate Blanchett and author Richard Flanagan
artsRichard Flanagan's Man Booker win has put paid to the myth that antipodean artists lack culture
Arts and Entertainment
The Everyman, revamped by Haworth Tompkins
architectureIt beats strong shortlist that included the Shard, the Library of Birmingham, and the London Aquatics Centre
Arts and Entertainment
Justice is served: Robert Downey Jr, Vincent D’Onofrio, Jeremy Strong and Robert Duvall in ‘The Judge’

Film

Arts and Entertainment
Clive Owen (centre) in 'The Knick'

TV

Arts and Entertainment
J.K. Simmons , left, and Miles Teller in a scene from

Film

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Wilko Johnson, now the bad news: musician splits with manager after police investigate assault claims

    Wilko Johnson, now the bad news

    Former Dr Feelgood splits with manager after police investigate assault claims
    Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands ahead of the US midterm elections

    Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands

    The Senator for Colorado is for gay rights, for abortion rights – and in the Republicans’ sights as they threaten to take control of the Senate next month
    New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

    New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

    Evidence found of contact between Easter Islanders and South America
    Cerys Matthews reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of Dylan Thomas

    Cerys Matthews on Dylan Thomas

    The singer reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of the famous Welsh poet
    DIY is not fun and we've finally realised this as a nation

    Homebase closures: 'DIY is not fun'

    Homebase has announced the closure of one in four of its stores. Nick Harding, who never did know his awl from his elbow, is glad to see the back of DIY
    The Battle of the Five Armies: Air New Zealand releases new Hobbit-inspired in-flight video

    Air New Zealand's wizard in-flight video

    The airline has released a new Hobbit-inspired clip dubbed "The most epic safety video ever made"
    Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month - but can you stomach the sweetness?

    Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month

    The combination of cinnamon, clove, nutmeg (and no actual pumpkin), now flavours everything from lattes to cream cheese in the US
    11 best sonic skincare brushes

    11 best sonic skincare brushes

    Forget the flannel - take skincare to the next level by using your favourite cleanser with a sonic facial brush
    Paul Scholes column: I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Phil Jones and Marcos Rojo

    Paul Scholes column

    I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Jones and Rojo
    Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

    Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

    While other sports are stalked by corruption, we are an easy target for the critics
    Jamie Roberts exclusive interview: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

    Jamie Roberts: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

    Wales centre says he’s not coming home but is looking to establish himself at Racing Métro
    How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

    A crime that reveals London's dark heart

    How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?
    Meet 'Porridge' and 'Vampire': Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker

    Lost in translation: Western monikers

    Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker. Simon Usborne, who met a 'Porridge' and a 'Vampire' while in China, can see the problem
    Handy hacks that make life easier: New book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone

    Handy hacks that make life easier

    New book reveals how to rid your email inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone with a loo-roll
    KidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day

    KidZania: It's a small world

    The new 'educational entertainment experience' in London's Shepherd's Bush will allow children to try out the jobs that are usually undertaken by adults, including firefighter, doctor or factory worker