Skip to main content

How the Web mourned Lou Reed

By Gene Seymour, Special to CNN
updated 8:00 AM EDT, Mon October 28, 2013
Lou Reed, who took rock 'n' roll into dark corners as a songwriter, vocalist and guitarist, died Sunday, October 27, at the age of 71. Lou Reed, who took rock 'n' roll into dark corners as a songwriter, vocalist and guitarist, died Sunday, October 27, at the age of 71.
HIDE CAPTION
Lou Reed: Rock legend
Lou Reed: Rock legend
Lou Reed: Rock legend
Lou Reed: Rock legend
Lou Reed: Rock legend
Lou Reed: Rock legend
Lou Reed: Rock legend
Lou Reed: Rock legend
Lou Reed: Rock legend
Lou Reed: Rock legend
Lou Reed: Rock legend
Lou Reed: Rock legend
Lou Reed: Rock legend
Lou Reed: Rock legend
Lou Reed: Rock legend
<<
<
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
11
12
13
14
15
>
>>
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Reactions to Reed's death showed emotional intensity and intimacy, writes Gene Seymour
  • He says many commented that Reed had changed their lives
  • Seymour: Reed was a pioneer in his romantic vision of outlaw street life
  • Many knew Reed was ill, but thought he'd last forever, he writes

Editor's note: Gene Seymour is a film critic who has written about music, movies and culture for The New York Times, Newsday, Entertainment Weekly and The Washington Post.

(CNN) -- The first line in most of the early obituaries of Lou Reed described him primarily as lead singer for the Velvet Underground. This is somewhat like starting an obituary for Abraham Lincoln by saying he was president of he United States during the Civil War. Or, more to the point, that Thelonious Monk played piano or that Bob Dylan was a folk singer. In each case, it's a start. At the same time, it doesn't begin telling you what's important to know.

In fact, what I've been hearing and reading online from friends and others, since word came Sunday of Reed's death at age 71, were reactions that vibrated with emotional intensity and startling intimacy. "He changed my life" was a recurring theme, as was "I wouldn't have been a ______ without him."

And you could fill in the blank with any or all of the following: poet, artist, musician, singer, writer, performer, iconoclast, New Yorker -- all of which Lou Reed was. And the example he set in those roles empowered generations as decisively and enduringly as such disparate peers as Dylan, John Lennon, Brian Wilson and others who made the '60s (and a lot that came afterward) possible.

Gene Seymour
Gene Seymour

"He was as gifted, as important and influential, as any artist of the last fifty years," wrote Mikal Gilmore, a writer and rock journalist whose own work, including the 2001 memoir "Shot in the Heart," has evoked some of the same darkness, mordancy and pungent wit that filtered through Reed's songs. "And he was a great favorite of mine since the day I first heard the Velvet Underground's debut as I was sitting on the floor of the Psychedelic Shop in Portland, Oregon in the summer of 1967."

"Even though I knew (Reed) was sick, I thought he'd last forever" was another recurring theme that one read in blogs and social media postings. This seemed aligned with the perception of Reed as a hard-bitten survivor of drug abuse and other wretched excesses who continued to put out trenchant albums, alienate journalists, and inspire independent rockers and others who sought the cutting edge he helped define.

Michael Hogan's Vanity Fair blog -- which celebrated Reed as "the last of the old New York characters, a true curmudgeon" -- alluded to the knowingly affectionate jibes many people made over Reed's liver transplant this past spring.

"Look what he did to the last one, people said," wrote Hogan. "And it's true that Lou Reed put his body through hell back in the day. He eventually cleaned up his habits but he never softened up."

The YouTube postings of Reed's performances also blanketed the social media landscape. "Walk on the Wild Side" and "Sweet Jane," arguably his two most widely successful and recognized singles, were the most frequently shared.

Some reached back to the 1967 album that started it all, "The Velvet Underground and Nico," by posting such songs as "I'm Waiting for the Man," "Venus in Furs" and "Heroin" -- songs that took their listeners to dark, forbidding places many of them weren't ready to go, whether it was the dark corridors of a Harlem brownstone to buy hard drugs or even harder-core rituals of sadomasochistic sex. Over time, the album would become the hallowed cornerstone of such iconoclastic offshoots of the rock-pop universe as new wave, punk and indie rock. It also created a space where a new kind of romantic vision of outlaw street life would seize the imaginations not only of musicians, but of artists, writers and filmmakers.

There were even those who insisted on posting, in its entirety, Reed's 1975 experimental LP, "Metal Machine Music," consisting almost entirely of guitar feedback running at different speeds.

It sounds just as confounding and fascinating now as it did to listeners in the mid-'70s. But as with all of Reed's music, scary and wistful, funny and sad, tender and spiteful, these strange sounds, whatever their reason for existing, will remain a thrown gauntlet to anyone who's alienated themselves from the status quo to make something of their own that confuses or arouses people to think differently about their surroundings.

As Gilmore wrote, "There always seemed something indomitable about (Reed) and his commitment. Today, especially, he still seems indomitable."

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion.

Join us on Facebook/CNNOpinion.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Gene Seymour.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 8:42 AM EDT, Mon August 18, 2014
The former U.K. prime minister and current U.N. envoy says there are 500 days left to fulfill the Millennium Goals' promise to children.
updated 9:10 AM EDT, Mon August 18, 2014
Julian Zelizer says the left mistrusts Clinton but there are ways she can win support from liberals in 2016
updated 7:49 AM EDT, Tue August 19, 2014
Peter Bergen says the terror group is a huge threat in Iraq but only a potential one in the U.S.
updated 1:34 PM EDT, Sat August 16, 2014
Mark O'Mara says the way cops, media, politicians and protesters have behaved since Michael Brown's shooting shows not all the right people have learned the right lessons
updated 11:23 AM EDT, Sun August 17, 2014
Retired Lt. Gen. Mark Hertling says the American military advisers in Iraq are sizing up what needs to be done and recommending accordingly
updated 3:41 PM EDT, Fri August 15, 2014
Marc Lamont Hill says the President's comments on the Michael Brown shooting ignored its racial implications
updated 5:46 PM EDT, Fri August 15, 2014
Joe Stork says the catastrophe in northern Iraq continues, even though many religious minorities have fled to safety: ISIS forces -- intent on purging them -- still control the area where they lived
updated 6:26 PM EDT, Thu August 14, 2014
Tim Lynch says Pentagon's policy of doling out military weapons to police forces is misguided and dangerous.
updated 9:15 AM EDT, Fri August 15, 2014
S.E. Cupp says millennials want big ideas and rapid change; she talks to one of their number who serves in Congress
updated 7:57 PM EDT, Thu August 14, 2014
Dorothy Brown says the power structure is dominated by whites in a town that is 68% black. Elected officials who sat by silently as chaos erupted after Michael Brown shooting should be voted out of office
updated 7:49 AM EDT, Thu August 14, 2014
Bill Schmitz says the media and other adults should never explain suicide as a means of escaping pain. Robin Williams' tragic death offers a chance to educate about prevention
updated 11:05 AM EDT, Fri August 15, 2014
Nafees Syed says President Obama should renew the quest to eliminate bias in the criminal justice system
updated 4:24 PM EDT, Thu August 14, 2014
Eric Liu says what's unfolded in the Missouri town is a shocking violation of American constitutional rights and should be a wake-up call to all
updated 3:22 PM EDT, Wed August 13, 2014
Neal Gabler says Lauren Bacall, a talent in her own right, will be defined by her marriage with the great actor Humphrey Bogart
updated 6:56 AM EDT, Fri August 15, 2014
Bob Butler says the arrest of two journalists covering the Ferguson story is alarming
updated 4:35 PM EDT, Wed August 13, 2014
Mark O'Mara says we all need to work together to make sure the tension between police and African-Americans doesn't result in more tragedies
updated 4:06 PM EDT, Mon August 18, 2014
Pepper Schwartz asks why young women are so entranced with Kardashian, who's putting together a 352-page book of selfies
updated 7:08 PM EDT, Wed August 13, 2014
Michael Friedman says depression does not discriminate, cannot be bargained with and shows no mercy.
updated 8:51 AM EDT, Tue August 12, 2014
Mary Allen says because of new research and her own therapy, she no longer carries around the fear of her mother, which had turned into a generalized fear of everything
updated 3:59 PM EDT, Tue August 12, 2014
Gilbert Gottfried says the comedian was most at home on the comedy club stage, where he was generous to his fellow stand-up performers
updated 4:54 PM EDT, Tue August 12, 2014
Iris Baez, whose son was killed by an illegal police chokehold, says there must be zero tolerance for police who fatally shoot or otherwise kill unarmed people such as Michael Brown
updated 8:46 AM EDT, Tue August 12, 2014
Maria Cardona says as he seeks a path to the presidency, the Kentucky Senator is running from his past stated positions. But voters are not stupid--and they know how to use the internet
updated 10:19 PM EDT, Tue August 12, 2014
Gene Seymour says the shock at the actor and comedian's death comes from its utter implausibility. For many of us over the last 40 years or so, Robin Williams was an irresistible force of nature that nothing could stop.
updated 3:51 PM EDT, Tue August 12, 2014
Soledad O'Brien says the story of two veterans told in a documentary airing on CNN shows the challenges resulting from post-traumatic stress
updated 11:25 AM EDT, Tue August 12, 2014
LZ Granderson says we must not surrender to apathy about the injustice faced by African Americans
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT