Lou Reed: ‘Uncut and pure, to the very last’

LOU Reed was a vicious, uncompromising, pretentious narcissist who epitomised everything sleazy and hard-bitten about rock ’n’ roll. He also had faults.

Lou Reed has died, aged 71. Picture: Getty
Lou Reed has died, aged 71. Picture: Getty

His death at the age of 71 means western culture has lost one of its great figures, a demi-god of the demi-monde. The cliche goes that the first Velvet Underground album was bought by very few people but every single one of them formed a band. How many more then, how many musicians, artists, filmmakers, have been influenced by the work of Lou Reed? By Pale Blue Eyes, Candy Says, Perfect Day? Such power in those songs. Such menace and seduction. I remember once driving across Rannoch Moor at midnight when Venus in Furs came on the radio and it sounded so brilliantly terrifying that my heart started thumping.

More than the songs, though, was the fact that he never quite allowed himself to be co-opted by the establishment. No disrespect to David Bowie, but it’s hard to imagine the V&A mounting an exhibition to honour Lou Reed.

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I met him eight years ago in Copenhagen. Straight away, he was hostile. But it was a sort of test, I think, and he regarded journalists as so many whetstones on which to sharpen his cutting edge. “I have enough anger to last me a long time,” he said. “It’s in every cell of my body.” I remember asking whether posterity was important to him and he sneered: “Why would I care about that?”

He may not have cared, but he will be remembered, and although it’s a little early for posterity to make its judgment, how about this? Lou Reed, like the heroin he once hymned, was uncut and pure to the very last.