Reed's solo career began in 1972. He had a hit the following year with "Walk on the Wild Side", but this level of mainstream commercial success was not repeated. Reed is known for his distinctive deadpan voice and poetic lyrics. In 2003, Rolling Stone magazine's list of the 500 Greatest Albums of All Time included two albums by Reed as a solo artist: Transformer and Berlin, and also included the Velvet Underground albums The Velvet Underground & Nico, White Light/White Heat, The Velvet Underground and Loaded.
Reed was born on March 2, 1942 at Beth El Hospital (now Brookdale) in Brooklyn and grew up in Freeport, Long Island. Contrary to some sources, his birth name was Lewis Allan Reed, not Louis Firbanks, a name that was coined as a joke by Lester Bangs in Creem magazine. Reed was the son of Toby (née Futterman) (1920–2013) and Sidney Joseph Reed (1913–2005), an accountant. His family was Jewish, and although he said that he was Jewish, he added, "My God is rock'n'roll. It's an obscure power that can change your life. The most important part of my religion is to play guitar." Reed attended Atkinson Elementary School in Freeport and went on to Freeport Junior High School, notorious for its gangs. His sister said that as a teenager, he suffered panic attacks, became socially awkward and "possessed a fragile temperament" but was highly focused on things that he liked – principally music.
Having learned to play the guitar from the radio, he developed an early interest in rock and roll and rhythm and blues, and during high school played in several bands. Reed began experimenting with drugs at the age of 16. His first recording was as a member of a doo-wop-style group called the Jades. His love for playing music and his desire to play gigs brought him into confrontation with his anxious and unaccommodating parents. His sister Merrill, born Elizabeth Reed, recalled that, during his first year in college, he was brought home one day in an unresponsive state, supposedly due to a mental breakdown, after which he remained "depressed, anxious, and socially unresponsive" for a time, and that his parents were having great difficulty coping with the situation. Visiting a psychologist, Reed's parents were made to feel guilty as inadequate parents, and consented to electroconvulsive therapy (ECT). Reed appeared to blame his father principally for what he had been subjected to. He wrote about the experience in his 1974 song, "Kill Your Sons". In an interview, Reed said of the experience:
"They put the thing down your throat so you don't swallow your tongue, and they put electrodes on your head. That's what was recommended in Rockland County then to discourage homosexual feelings. The effect is that you lose your memory and become a vegetable. You can't read a book because you get to page 17 and have to go right back to page one again."
After Reed's death, his sister Merrill denied the ECT treatments were intended to suppress his "homosexual urges", asserting instead that their parents were told by his doctors that ECT was necessary to treat Reed's mental and behavioral issues: "[Lou] was depressed, weird, anxious, and avoidant. My parents were many things, but homophobic they were not. In fact, they were blazing liberals. They were caught in a bewildering web of guilt, fear, and poor psychiatric care. Did they make a mistake in not challenging the doctor’s recommendation for ECT? Absolutely. I have no doubt they regretted it until the day they died."
Upon his recovery from the bout of illness and associated treatment, Reed resumed his education at Syracuse University in 1960, studying journalism, film directing, and creative writing. He was a platoon leader in ROTC and was later expelled from the program for holding an unloaded gun to his superior's head. In 1961, he began hosting a late-night radio program on WAER called Excursions On A Wobbly Rail. Named after a song by pianist Cecil Taylor, the program typically featured doo wop, rhythm and blues, and jazz, particularly the free jazz developed in the mid-1950s. Many of Reed's guitar techniques, such as the guitar-drum roll, were inspired by jazz saxophonists, such as Ornette Coleman. Reed's sister Merrill offered the following recollection of her brother's time spent at Syracuse: "[He] started a band, he had his own radio show. He reportedly libeled some student on his radio show; the kid's family tried to sue my father. And there were other extracurricular possibly illegal activities of which the university didn't approve. I believe they tried to kick him out. But he was a genius; what could they do? He stayed and he graduated." Reed graduated with honors from Syracuse University's College of Arts and Sciences with a B.A. in English in June 1964.
While enrolled at Syracuse University, he studied under poet Delmore Schwartz, who he said was "the first great person I ever met", and they became friends. He credited Schwartz with showing him how "with the simplest language imaginable, and very short, you can accomplish the most astonishing heights." One of Reed's fellow students at Syracuse in the early 60's (who also studied under Schwartz) was the musician Garland Jeffreys; they remained close friends until the end of Reed's life. Jeffreys once offered the following recollection of Schwartz and Reed during Reed's time at Syracuse: "At four in the afternoon we'd all meet at [the bar] The Orange Grove. Me, Delmore and Lou. That would often be the center of the crew. And Delmore was the leader - our quiet leader." While at Syracuse, Reed was also introduced to heroin for the first time. He once commented: "I had recently been introduced to [heroin] by a mashed-in-face negro named 'Jaw'. Jaw gave me hepatitis immediately, which is pathetic and laughable at once." While at Syracuse, Reed also met fellow guitar-playing student Sterling Morrison, who would later play with Reed in the Velvet Underground. While Morrison wasn't attending Syracuse at the time, he made Reed's acquaintance while he was visiting mutual friend Jim Tucker, the older brother of Velvet Underground drummer Maureen Tucker who happened to be attending school there. Reed would later dedicate the song "European Son", from the Velvet Underground's debut album, to his teacher Delmore Schwartz. In 1982, Reed also recorded "My House" from his early 80's album The Blue Mask as a tribute to his late mentor. He later said that his goals as a writer were "to bring the sensitivities of the novel to rock music" or to write the Great American Novel in a record album.
In 1964, Reed moved to New York City and began working as an in-house songwriter for Pickwick Records. In 1964, he wrote and recorded the single "The Ostrich", a parody of popular dance songs of the time, which included lines such as "put your head on the floor and have somebody step on it". His employers felt that the song had hit potential, and assembled a supporting band to help promote the recording. The ad hoc group, called "The Primitives", included Welsh musician John Cale, who had recently moved to New York to study music and was playing viola in composer La Monte Young's Theatre of Eternal Music, along with Tony Conrad. Cale and Conrad were both surprised to find that for "The Ostrich", Reed tuned each string of his guitar to the same note, which they began to call his "ostrich guitar" tuning. This technique created a drone effect similar to their experimentation in Young's avant-garde ensemble. Disappointed with Reed's performance, Cale was nevertheless impressed by Reed's early repertoire (including "Heroin"), and a partnership began to evolve.
Reed and Cale (who would play viola, keyboards and bass) lived together on the Lower East Side, and invited Reed's college acquaintance guitarist Sterling Morrison and Cale's neighbour drummer Angus MacLise to join the group, thus forming the Velvet Underground. When the opportunity came to play their first paying gig at Summit High School in Summit, New Jersey, MacLise quit because he believed that accepting money for art was a sellout and also did not want to participate in a structured gig. He was replaced on drums by Maureen Tucker, initially for that one show, but she soon became a full-time member with her pounding style of drumming an integral part of the band's distinctive sound, despite the initial objections of Cale. Though internally unstable (Cale left in 1968, Reed in 1970), and without commercial success, the band has a long-standing reputation as one of the most influential in rock history.
The group soon caught the attention of artist Andy Warhol. One of Warhol's first contributions was to integrate them into the Exploding Plastic Inevitable. Warhol's associates inspired many of Reed's songs as he fell into a thriving, multifaceted artistic scene. Reed rarely gave an interview without paying homage to Warhol as a mentor. Conflict emerged when Warhol had the idea for the group to take on a chanteuse, the European former model and singer Nico. Despite his initial resistance, Reed wrote several songs for Nico to sing, and the two were briefly lovers. The Velvet Underground & Nico reached No. 171 on the charts.
The album is now widely considered one of the most influential rock albums ever recorded. Rolling Stone has it listed as the 13th greatest album of all time. Brian Eno once famously stated that although few people bought the album, most of those who did were inspired to form their own band. Václav Havel credited this album, which he bought while visiting the U.S., with inspiring him to become president of Czechoslovakia.
By the time the band recorded White Light/White Heat, Nico had quit and Warhol had been fired, both against Cale's wishes. Warhol's replacement as manager was Steve Sesnick. In September 1968, Cale left the band at Reed's behest. Morrison and Tucker were discomfited by Reed's tactics but continued with the group. Cale's replacement was Boston-based musician Doug Yule, who played bass, keyboards and who would soon share lead vocal duties in the band with Reed. The group now took on a more pop-oriented sound and acted more as a vehicle for Reed to develop his songwriting craft. The group released two albums with this lineup: 1969's The Velvet Underground and 1970's Loaded. The latter included two of the group's most commercially successful songs, "Rock and Roll" and "Sweet Jane". After the band's move to Atlantic Records' Cotillion label, their new manager pushed Reed to change the subject matter of his songs to lighter topics in hopes of commercial success. Loaded had taken more time to record than the previous three albums together, but had not broken them through to a wider audience.
Reed left the band in August 1970 and briefly retired to his parents' home on Long Island. The band disintegrated as core members Sterling Morrison and Maureen Tucker departed in 1971. Yule continued until early 1973, and one more studio album, Squeeze, was released under the Velvet Underground name.
After quitting the Velvet Underground in August 1970, Reed took a job at his father's tax accounting firm as a typist, by his own account earning $40 a week (US$247 in 2016 dollars). In 1971, he signed a recording contract with RCA Records and recorded his first solo album in London with top session musicians including Steve Howe and Rick Wakeman, members of the progressive rock group Yes. The album, Lou Reed, contained smoothly produced versions of unreleased Velvet Underground songs, some of which had originally been recorded by the Velvets for Loaded but shelved (see the Peel Slowly and See box set). This first solo album was overlooked by most pop music critics and it did not sell well, although music critic Stephen Holden, in Rolling Stone, called it an "almost perfect album. . . . which embodied the spirit of the Velvets." Holden describes Reed's unique qualities, in both his voice and lyrics, in the album:
Reed's voice hasn't changed much since the early days. Outrageously unmusical, it combines the sass of Jagger and the mockery of early Dylan, but is lower-pitched than either. It is a voice so incapable of bullshit that it makes even an artsy arrangement work by turning the whole thing into a joyous travesty. Just as arresting as Reed's voice are his lyrics, which combine a New York street punk sensibility and rock song cliches with a powerful poetic gift.
Reed's breakthrough album, Transformer, was released in November 1972. Transformer was co-produced by David Bowie and Mick Ronson, and it introduced Reed to a wider audience, especially in the UK. The hit single "Walk on the Wild Side" was an ironic yet affectionate salute to the misfits and hustlers who once surrounded Andy Warhol. When first introduced to Reed's music, Bowie had said, "I had never heard anything quite like it. It was a revelation to me."
Each of the song's five verses poignantly describes a person who had been a fixture at The Factory during the mid-to-late 1960s: (1) Holly Woodlawn, (2) Candy Darling, (3) "Little Joe" Dallesandro, (4) "Sugar Plum Fairy" Joe Campbell and (5) Jackie Curtis. The song's transgressive lyrics evaded radio censorship. Though the jazzy arrangement (courtesy of bassist Herbie Flowers and saxophonist Ronnie Ross) was musically somewhat atypical for Reed, it eventually became his signature song. It came about as a result of a commission to compose a soundtrack to a theatrical adaptation of Nelson Algren's novel of the same name, though the play failed to materialize. Ronson's arrangements brought out new aspects of Reed's songs. "Perfect Day," for example, features delicate strings and soaring dynamics. It was rediscovered in the 1990s and allowed Reed to drop "Walk on the Wild Side" from his concerts.
Transformer was Reed's commercial and critical pinnacle, and he resented the shadow the record cast over the rest of his career. An argument between Bowie and Reed ended their working relationship for several years, though its subject is not known. (The two reconciled some years later, and Reed performed with Bowie at the latter's 50th birthday concert at Madison Square Garden in 1997. They did not formally collaborate again until 2003's The Raven.) Touring in support of Transformer posed the challenge of forming a band for the first time since joining the Velvets. Reed hired an inexperienced bar band, the Tots, and spent much of 1972 and early 1973 on the road with them. Though they improved over the months, criticism of their still-basic abilities ultimately led Reed to fire them mid-tour. He chose keyboardist Moogy Klingman to come up with a new five-member backing band on barely a week's notice. Thus the tour continued with a denser, bluesier and tighter sound that presaged the very successful live albums Reed would record with all different musicians in December.
Reed followed Transformer with the darker Berlin. Berlin is a concept album about two junkies in love in the city. The songs variously concern domestic violence ("Caroline Says I," "Caroline Says II"), drug addiction ("How Do You Think It Feels"), adultery and prostitution ("The Kids"), and suicide ("The Bed"). Reed's late-1973 European tour, featuring dual lead guitarists Steve Hunter and Dick Wagner, mixed his Berlin material with older numbers. Response to Berlin at the time of its release was decidedly negative, with Rolling Stone pronouncing it "a disaster". Since then the album has been critically reevaluated, and in 2003 Rolling Stone included it in their list of the 500 greatest albums of all time.
After Berlin came two albums in 1974, a live record Rock 'n' Roll Animal, and Sally Can't Dance; the former containing performances of the Velvet Underground songs "Sweet Jane" and "Heroin" and would go on to become his biggest selling album. Rock 'n' Roll Animal, featuring primarily Velvet Underground material, and its follow-up released in early 1975 Lou Reed Live, its time divided primarily between Transformer and Berlin songs, with only one Velvet Underground song, were both recorded at the same show (Academy Of Music, NYC December 21, 1973), and kept Reed in the public eye with strong sales. The later expanded CD version of Rock 'n' Roll Animal taken together with Lou Reed Live are the entirety of the show that night, although not in the running order it was performed.
As he had done with Berlin after Transformer, in 1975 Reed responded to commercial success with a commercial failure, a double album of electronically generated audio feedback, Metal Machine Music. Critics interpreted it as a gesture of contempt, an attempt to break his contract with RCA or to alienate his less sophisticated fans. Reed claimed that the album was a genuine artistic effort, even suggesting that quotations of classical music could be found buried in the feedback. Lester Bangs declared it "genius", though also psychologically disturbing. The album was reportedly returned to stores by the thousands after a few weeks. Though later admitting that the liner notes' list of instruments is fictitious and intended as parody, Reed continued to maintain that MMM was a serious album; though at the time he was "very stoned". In the 2000s it was adapted for orchestral performance by the German ensemble Zeitkratzer.
1975's Coney Island Baby was mainly a warm and mellow album, though for its characters Reed still drew on the underbelly of city life. At this time his lover was a transgender woman, Rachel, mentioned in the dedication of "Coney Island Baby" and appearing in the photos on the cover of Reed's 1977 "best of" album, Walk on the Wild Side: The Best of Lou Reed. While Rock and Roll Heart, his 1976 debut for his new record label Arista, fell short of expectations, Street Hassle (1978) was a return to form in the midst of the punk scene he had helped to inspire. Reed was dismissive of punk, and rejected any affiliation with it. "I'm too literate to be into punk rock . . . The whole CBGB's, new Max's thing that everyone's into and what's going on in London—you don't seriously think I'm responsible for what's mostly rubbish?"
In 1978 Reed released his third live album, Live: Take No Prisoners, which some critics thought was his "bravest work yet," while others considered it his "silliest." Rolling Stone described it as "one of the funniest live albums ever recorded [with] Lou's dark-humored, Lenny Bruce-like monologues." Reed felt it was his best album:
You may find this funny, but I think of it as a contemporary urban-blues album. After all, that's what I write—tales of the city. And if I dropped dead tomorrow, this is the record I'd choose for posterity. It's not only the smartest thing I've done, it's also as close to Lou Reed as you're probably going to get, for better or for worse.
The Bells (1979) featured jazz musician Don Cherry, and was followed the next year by Growing Up in Public with guitarist Chuck Hammer. Around this period he also appeared as a sleazy record producer in Paul Simon's film One-Trick Pony. Reed also played several unannounced one-off concerts in tiny downtown Manhattan clubs with the likes of Cale, Patti Smith, and David Byrne during this period. Reed and Patti Smith both worked at Record Plant in 1977 at the same time, each trying to complete albums. Bruce Springsteen was also at the studio working on finishing his Darkness on the Edge of Town album. After a concert at the Hammersmith Odeon in October 1979, during the tour to promote The Bells, Reed had dinner with Bowie in a restaurant in Knightsbridge during which Reed hit David Bowie after Reed asked him to produce his next album, and Bowie agreed provided Reed cleaned up his act.
In 1980, Reed married British designer Sylvia Morales. They were divorced more than a decade later. While together, Morales inspired Reed to write several songs, particularly "Think It Over" from 1980's Growing Up in Public and "Heavenly Arms" from 1982's The Blue Mask with bassist Fernando Saunders. After Legendary Hearts (1983) and New Sensations (1984) fared adequately on the charts, Reed was sufficiently reestablished as a public figure to become spokesman for Honda motorcycles.
The New York Times reported in 1998 on Reed's change from the 1970s to the 1980s. The Times observed that, in the 1970s, Reed had a distinctive persona: "Back then he was publicly gay, pretended to shoot heroin onstage, and cultivated a 'Dachau panda' look, with cropped peroxide hair and black circles painted under his eyes." The newspaper went on to note that, in 1980, "Reed renounced druggy theatrics, even swore off intoxicants themselves, and became openly heterosexual, openly married."
In the early 1980s, Reed worked with a number of innovative guitarists including Chuck Hammer and Robert Quine. Hammer appeared on Growing Up in Public (1980) and Quine appeared on The Blue Mask (1982) and Legendary Hearts (1983).
On September 22, 1985, Reed performed at the first Farm Aid concert in Champaign, Illinois. He performed "Doin' the Things That We Want To", "I Love You, Suzanne", "New Sensations" and "Walk on the Wild Side" as his solo set, later playing bass for Roy Orbison during his set. In June 1986, Reed released Mistrial (co-produced with Fernando Saunders), a more commercial album than previous records. To support the release, he released two music videos: "No Money Down" and "The Original Wrapper".
At the same time of Mistrial's release, he joined Amnesty International's A Conspiracy of Hope short tour and was outspoken about New York's political issues and personalities. He would later use this experience on the 1989 album New York, commenting on crime, AIDS, Jesse Jackson, Kurt Waldheim and Pope John Paul II.
Following Warhol's death after routine surgery in 1987, Reed again collaborated with John Cale on the biographical Songs for Drella (1990), Warhol's nickname. The album marked an end to a 22-year estrangement from Cale. On the album, Reed sings of his love for his late friend, and criticizes both the doctors who were unable to save Warhol's life and Warhol's would-be assassin, Valerie Solanas.
In 1990, following a twenty-year hiatus, the Velvet Underground reformed for a Fondation Cartier benefit in France. Reed released his sixteenth solo record, Magic and Loss, in 1992, an album about mortality, inspired by the death of two close friends from cancer. In 1993, the Velvet Underground again reunited and toured throughout Europe, although plans for a North American tour were cancelled following another falling out between Reed and Cale. In 1994, Reed appeared in A Celebration: The Music of Pete Townshend and The Who, also known as Daltrey Sings Townshend. This was a two-night concert at Carnegie Hall produced by Roger Daltrey in celebration of his fiftieth birthday. In 1994, a CD and a VHS video were issued, and in 1998 a DVD was released. Reed performed a radically rearranged version of "Now and Then" from Psychoderelict.
In 1996, the Velvet Underground were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. At the induction ceremony, Reed performed a song entitled "Last Night I Said Goodbye to My Friend" alongside former bandmates John Cale and Maureen Tucker, in dedication to Velvet Underground guitarist Sterling Morrison, who had died the previous August. Reed was nominated for the Rock Hall as a solo artist thrice, in 2000, 2001 and 2015 and was chosen to be inducted at the April 18, 2015 ceremony in Cleveland.
His 1996 album, Set the Twilight Reeling, and 2000's Ecstasy, both produced by Hal Willner, drew praise from most critics. In 1996, Reed contributed songs and music to Time Rocker, an avant-garde theatrical interpretation of H. G. Wells' The Time Machine staged by theater director Robert Wilson. The piece premiered in the Thalia Theater, Hamburg, Germany and was later also shown at the Brooklyn Academy of Music in New York.
In 1998, the PBS TV show American Masters aired Timothy Greenfield-Sanders' feature documentary Lou Reed: Rock and Roll Heart. This film, which premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in the U.S. and at the Berlin International Film Festival in Germany went on to screen at over 50 festivals worldwide. In 1999, the film and Reed as its subject received a Grammy Award for best long-form music video.
From the late 1990s, Reed was romantically linked to the musician, multi-media and performance artist Laurie Anderson, and the two collaborated on a number of recordings together. Anderson contributed to "Call On Me" from Reed's project The Raven, to the tracks "Baton Rouge" and "Rock Minuet" from Reed's Ecstasy and to "Hang On to Your Emotions" from Reed's Set the Twilight Reeling. Reed contributed to "In Our Sleep" from Anderson's Bright Red and to "One Beautiful Evening" from her Life on a String. They married on April 12, 2008.
In May 2000, Reed performed before Pope John Paul II at the Great Jubilee Concert in Rome. In 2000, a new collaboration with Robert Wilson called "POEtry" was staged at the Thalia Theater in Germany. As with the previous collaboration "Time Rocker," "POEtry" was also inspired by the works of a 19th-century writer: Edgar Allan Poe. Reed became interested in Poe after producer Hal Willner suggested he read some of Poe's text at a Halloween benefit he was curating at St. Ann's Episcopal Church in Brooklyn. For this new collaboration, Reed reworked and rewrote some of Poe's text and included some new songs based on the theme explored in the texts. In 2001, Reed made a cameo appearance in the movie adaptation of Prozac Nation. On October 6, 2001, the New York Times published a Reed poem called Laurie Sadly Listening in which he reflects upon the September 11 attacks.
Incorrect reports of Reed's death were broadcast by numerous U.S. radio stations in 2001, caused by a hoax email (purporting to be from Reuters) which said he had died of a drug overdose. In 2003, he released a 2-CD set, The Raven, based on "Poe-Try". In 2011, he transformed the CD into an illustrated book, with art by Lorenzo Mattotti, published by Fantagraphics. Besides Reed and his band, the album featured actors and musicians including singers David Bowie, Laurie Anderson, Kate & Anna McGarrigle, the Blind Boys of Alabama and Anohni, saxophonist Ornette Coleman, and actors Elizabeth Ashley, Christopher Walken, Steve Buscemi, Willem Dafoe, Amanda Plummer, Fisher Stevens and Kate Valk. The album consisted of songs written by Reed and spoken-word performances of reworked and rewritten texts of Edgar Allan Poe by the actors, set to electronic music composed by Reed. At the same time a single disc CD version of the album, focusing on the music, was also released.
A few months after the release of The Raven, a new 2-CD Best Of-set was released, entitled NYC Man (The Ultimate Collection 1967–2003), which featured an unreleased version of the song "Who am I" and a selection of career-spanning tracks that had been selected, remastered and sequenced under Reed's supervision. In April 2003, Reed embarked on a new world tour supporting both new and released material, with a band including cellist Jane Scarpantoni and singer Anohni. During some of the concerts for this tour, the band was joined by Master Ren Guangyi, Reed's personal tai chi instructor, performing t'ai chi movements to the music on stage. This tour was documented in the 2004 live double album Animal Serenade, recorded at the Wiltern in Los Angeles.
In 2003, Reed released his first book of photographs, Emotions in Action. This work was made up out of two books, a larger A4-paper sized called Emotions and a smaller one called Actions which was laid into the hard cover of the former. After Hours: a Tribute to the Music of Lou Reed was released by Wampus Multimedia in 2003. Reed was also a judge that year for the third annual Independent Music Awards to support independent artists' careers.
In 2004, a Groovefinder remix of his song "Satellite of Love", called "Satellite of Love '04", was released. It reached No. 10 in the UK Singles Chart. Also in 2004, Reed contributed vocals and guitar to the track "Fistful of Love" on I Am a Bird Now by Antony and the Johnsons. In 2005, Reed recorded a spoken word text on Danish rock band Kashmir's album No Balance Palace.
In January 2006, a second book of photographs, Lou Reed's New York, was released. At the 2006 MTV Video Music Awards, Reed performed "White Light/White Heat" with the Raconteurs. Later in the night, while co-presenting the award for Best Rock Video with Pink, he exclaimed, apparently unscripted, that "MTV should be playing more rock n' roll."
In October 2006, Reed appeared at Hal Willner's Leonard Cohen tribute show "Came So Far for Beauty" in Dublin, beside the cast of Laurie Anderson, Nick Cave, Anohni, Jarvis Cocker, Beth Orton and others. According to the reports, he played a heavy metal version of Cohen's "The Stranger Song." He also performed "One of Us Cannot Be Wrong" and two duets — "Joan of Arc" with Cohen's former back-up singer Julie Christensen and "Memories" with Anjani.
In December 2006, Reed played a first series of show at St. Ann's Warehouse, Brooklyn, based on his 1973 Berlin song cycle. Reed was reunited on stage with guitarist Steve Hunter, who played on the original album as well as on Rock 'n' Roll Animal, as well as joined by singers Anohni and Sharon Jones, pianist Rupert Christie, a horn and string section and the Brooklyn Youth Chorus. The show was produced by Bob Ezrin, who also produced the original album, and Hal Willner. The stage was designed by his neighbor and best friend, painter Julian Schnabel, and a film about protagonist "Caroline" directed by his daughter, Lola Schnabel, was projected to the stage. A live recording of these concerts was also published as a film (directed by Schnabel) which was released in 2008. The show was also played at the Sydney Festival in January 2007 and throughout Europe during June and July 2007. The album version of the concert, entitled Berlin: Live at St. Ann's Warehouse, was released in 2008.
In April 2007, he released Hudson River Wind Meditations, a record of ambient meditation music. It was released on the Sounds True record label and its four tracks were said to have been composed just for himself as a guidance for t'ai chi exercise and meditation.
In May 2007, Reed performed the narration for a screening of Guy Maddin's silent film Brand upon the Brain!. In June 2007, he performed live at the Traffic Festival 2007 in Turin, Italy, a five-day free event organized by the city. That same month saw the re-release of Reed's and The Underground's Pale Blue Eyes, as part of the soundtrack of the French-language film, The Diving Bell and the Butterfly (imdb.com).
In August 2007, Reed went into the studio with the Killers in New York City to record "Tranquilize," a duet with Brandon Flowers for the Killers' B-side/rarities album, called Sawdust. During that month, he also recorded guitar for the Lucibel Crater song "Threadbare Funeral" which appears on their album The Family Album. In October 2007, Reed gave a special performance in the Recitement song "Passengers". The album combines music with spoken word, and was composed by Stephen Emmer and produced by Tony Visconti. Hollandcentraal was inspired by this piece of music and literature, which spawned a concept for a music video. On October 1, 2008, Reed joined Richard Barone via projected video on a spoken/sung duet of Reed's "I'll Be Your Mirror" with cellist Jane Scarpantoni, in Barone's FRONTMAN: A Musical Reading at Carnegie Hall.
On October 2 and 3, 2008, he premiered his new group, which was later named Metal Machine Trio, at REDCAT (Walt Disney Concert Hall Complex, Los Angeles). The live recordings of the concerts were released under the title The Creation of the Universe. The trio featured Ulrich Krieger (saxophone) and Sarth Calhoun (electronics), and played free improvised instrumental music inspired by Reed's 1975 album Metal Machine Music. The music ranges from ambient soundscapes to free rock to contemporary noise. The trio played further shows at New York's Gramercy Theater in April 2009, and appeared as part of Reed's band at the 2009 Lollapalooza, including a ten-minute free trio improvisation. At Lollapalooza, held in Chicago's Grant Park, Reed played "Sweet Jane" and "White Light/White Heat" with Metallica at Madison Square Garden as part of the twenty-fifth anniversary celebration of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame on October 30, 2009. Reed provided the voice of Maltazard, the villain in the 2009 Luc Besson animated film Arthur and the Revenge of Maltazard and played himself in Wim Wenders' movie Palermo Shooting (2008).
In 2009, Reed became an active member of the Jazz Foundation of America (JFA). He was a featured performer at the JFA's annual benefit "A Great Night in Harlem" in May 2009.
Reed remained active doing benefits and composing music. He contributed vocals to the third Gorillaz album, Plastic Beach, on the song "Some Kind of Nature", and co-wrote and performed backup music for a chen-style t'ai chi instructional DVD. Reed also co-produced and created original music for a tai chi series entitled Power and Serenity. He had a co-production credit on Laurie Anderson's Homeland. In 2010 Reed also appeared in Stephan Berwick's short film "Final Weapon".
In 2011, the American heavy metal band Metallica recorded a full-length collaboration album with Reed entitled Lulu, released on November 1 in North America and October 31 everywhere else. Despite the negative response it received from critics, Metallica drummer Lars Ulrich offered the following opinion of the album following Reed's death in 2013: "We were both outsiders, we both never felt comfortable going down the same path that everyone else was doing. [...] Lou Reed is the godfather of being an outsider, being autonomous, marching to his own drum, making every project different from the previous one and never feeling like he had a responsibility to anybody other than himself. We shared kinship over that."
In 2011 Reed performed a cover of the Buddy Holly song "Peggy Sue", which is featured on the 2011 tribute album Rave On Buddy Holly.
On September 15, 2011, he performed "Who Am I? (Tripitena's Song)" and Sam Cooke's "A Change Is Gonna Come" as part of Dailymotion's Music In Motion: Hall Willner's Freedom Rides celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Freedom Rides.
In January 2012, Reed and John Cale sued the Andy Warhol Foundation for the license to use the yellow banana image from Warhol's art for The Velvet Underground & Nico album.
Reed contributed vocals to the track "The Wanderlust" on Metric's 2012 album Synthetica. He was a well-known supporter of the Free Tibet movement.
In 2012, a bilingual (French and English) book Lou Reed: Rimes/Rhymes was published with a compilation of more than 300 photos of Reed, with comments from co-author Bernard Comment.
On September 4, 2013, Reed and Mick Rock were interviewed, in Soho, by Mark Beaumont of the New Musical Express about their new joint photobook Transformers. It was to be Reed's last interview. Talking of his time with the Velvet Underground, he said:
"Every single one of us there was coming from a university and wanting to do something magniﬁcent. We weren’t there to make money or be pretty or get laid. We were trying to create a diamond. We wanted to make heaven on Earth. We wanted to explode the whole thing, the Exploding Plastic Inevitable. Anyway, Warhol heard us and he got it right off. There wasn’t a chance of it being commercial but for certain kind of people it was extraordinary. We really, really tried, every single album. We’re not just a bunch of fucking assholes from the street making god knows what kind of music – that’s not it. We were really serious. Just because we’re in jeans and all the rest of it doesn’t mean ... y’know, read the lyrics. Cale is one of the greatest instrumental players in the world ever. Maureen Tucker’s drumming – to this day no-one can match the originality of it."
In May 2013, Reed underwent a liver transplant at the Cleveland Clinic. Afterwards, on his website, he wrote of feeling "bigger and stronger" than ever, but on October 27, 2013, he died from liver disease at his home in Southampton, New York, at the age of 71.
David Byrne, Laurie Anderson, Patti Smith, David Bowie, Morrissey, Iggy Pop, Courtney Love, Lenny Kravitz, Miley Cyrus, Samuel L. Jackson, Kanye West, Ricky Gervais, Ryan Adams, Elijah Wood, Howard Stern and many others paid tribute to Reed. Pearl Jam dedicated their song "Man of the Hour" to Reed at their show in Baltimore and then played "I'm Waiting for the Man". On the day of his death, the Killers dedicated their rendition of "Pale Blue Eyes" to Reed at the Life Is Beautiful festival in Las Vegas. Phish opened their show in Hartford with "Rock & Roll", after which Trey Anastasio asked the audience for a moment of silence for one of the "greatest artists to ever live".
Former Velvet Underground members Maureen Tucker and John Cale made statements on Reed's death, and notables from far outside the music industry paid their respects on Twitter, including Cardinal Gianfranco Ravasi and Salman Rushdie.
On November 7, 2013 Reed's mother Toby died at the age of 93, 11 days after Reed's death.
On November 14, 2013, a three-hour public memorial was held near Lincoln Center's Paul Milstein Pool and Terrace. Billed as "New York: Lou Reed at Lincoln Center," the ceremony featured favorite Reed recordings selected by family and friends. That same month, it was reported that a biography is being written by Rolling Stone critic Anthony DeCurtis.
On December 16, 2013, UK's BBC Four broadcast Lou Reed Remembered, an hour-long tribute with contributions from friends and colleagues. The following day, a memorial featuring friends and collaborators of Reed was held at the Apollo Theater in Harlem. Organized by Laurie Anderson, the event included performances by Patti Smith, Antony Hegarty, Debbie Harry, Paul Simon, John Zorn, Philip Glass, and Maureen Tucker, to name a few.
On March 14, 2014, Richard Barone and Alejandro Escovedo co-presented the official SXSW Music Festival tribute to Reed, a nearly four-hour concert held at the Paramount Theatre in Austin, Texas. The event featured performances from friends, colleagues, and admirers ranging from Suzanne Vega and Garland Jeffreys to Sean Lennon, Spandau Ballet, and Lucinda Williams joining Barone and Escovedo.
Exactly one year after the BBC Four tribute broadcast, Reed's induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as a solo artist was announced on December 16, 2014. He was inducted by Patti Smith at a ceremony in Cleveland on April 18, 2015.
The New York Public Library announced March 2, 2017 the preservation of the Lou Reed archives at the NYPL. Reed's legacy takes up 300 linear feet of shelf space and offers a glimpse into Reed's life as a surviving musician and celebrity A-lister. Items in the archive collection include tapes of "Pale Blue Eyes" and "Sweet Jane" along with lyrics, unpublished poetry, letters, notes on tai chi, photographs, records, and fan art.
He influenced a large list of artists such as David Bowie, Tom Waits, Ian Hunter, Talking Heads, R.E.M., Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, Sonic Youth and The Strokes. The Velvet Underground & Nico (1967)
White Light/White Heat (1968)
The Velvet Underground (1969)
Songs for Drella (with John Cale, 1990)
Lulu (with Metallica, 2011)