The first time I heard “The Velvet Underground & Nico,” I was 13. The record, produced by Andy Warhol, was 24. I had expected punk rock, like the Sex Pistols. Why the heck did the guy at Smash! recommend this?
The album had a creepy mellowness, but it kept gathering steam until it was a train full of junkies, hookers, angels and devils, chugging down a dark, glamorous tunnel. It was all delivered in the siren-song mumble of Lou Reed, who died Sunday, a perfect fall day, at age 71.
Neither Reed nor his music were easy to get along with. Critics hated “Metal Machine Music,” his 1975 solo foray that pioneered noise rock. Rolling Stone described it as “a night in a bus terminal.” Legendary critic Lester Bangs was moved at one point to call Reed “a liar, a wasted talent … a huckster selling pounds of his own flesh.”
That was Reed’s showmanship, his ambition, his disdain for expectations placed on his art. His most recent record, 2011’s “Lulu,” made with Metallica, was, true to form, an odd mess.
There were eras Reed defined and eras he never meshed with. He leaves behind a wonderfully contentious catalog for us to keep tussling with.