SU mourns death of esteemed alumnus

Influential singer and songwriter Lou Reed died Sunday after undergoing a liver transplant earlier this year.

Lou Reed, a singer, songwriter of The Velvet Underground and immensely influential rock & roll artist, died Sunday, Oct. 27. Reed attended Syracuse University and graduated from the College of Arts and Sciences with honors in 1964.

In a statement released on Sunday, the university says of Reed: “Lou's artistic daring reflects the boundary breaking determination that characterizes the cultural contributions of our most accomplished alumni… While the SU community mourns his loss, we celebrate his poetic soul and innovative spirit.”

Photo: Syracuse University | Eric Weiss Photography

SU honored Reed in 2007 with an Arents Award, the highest alumni recognition award the university has to offer.

During his time at SU, Reed hosted a radio program at WAER named “Excursion on a Wobbly Rail.” Reed played a mix of R&B, doo-wop and jazz — the styles that Reed has said to be his early musical influences.

Joe Lee, current director and general manager at WAER, said Reed “is one of our alums in the music industry that WAER takes pride in.” While Reed’s time at the radio station pre-dates Lee’s, Lee mentioned the station’s respect for Lee, comparing him to other esteemed WAER alumni such as Dick Clark.

It was in the mid-60s when Reed collaborated with John Cale, Sterling Morrison and Maureen Tucker to form The Velvet Underground. With their unique, stark sound and Reed’s biting, matter-of-fact lyrics, the band created sound and style unprecedented in the music landscape of their time. The band garnered the attention of Andy Warhol, whom Reed later regarded as his mentor.

While technically a commercial failure, The Velvet Underground has gathered a major cult following in recent years. The band was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1996. The Velvet Underground is now widely considered to be the most influential band in rock and roll history.

Reed left The Velvet Underground to pursue a solo career, collaborating with artists like David Bowie. He encountered much success, releasing hit songs such as “Walk on the Wild Side.”

Characterized by his ever-changing style, Reed’s solo career was marked by his innovation and salacious lyrics. In a 1975 article about Reed, Rolling Stone magazine called him “the poet of destruction.” Reed’s social commentary on the artists and social underground that surrounded him during his time with Warhol can be found in his lyrics. With his sharp poetry, Reed remained refreshing and successful into the 2000s.

In recent years, Reed became a student of T’ai Chi, an ancient Chinese form of martial arts practiced in part for it's health benefits. In May 2013, Reed underwent a liver transplant after suffering from liver failure. Reed practed his T’ai Chi exercises regularly up until his death. He succumbed to liver disease at his home in Southampton on Long Island.

Reed’s contributions to rock and roll history influenced a generation of budding artists after him. Freshman Zach Schweikert, a Reed-admirer said, “Lou Reed’s work with the Velvet Underground and his solo work really pushed the envelope in terms of what could be said in popular music. He was really progressive with his music and lyrics and he has definitely had a huge influence on popular music today.”

For nearly 50 years, Reed defined and redefined the genre of rock and roll music. By bringing darker themes to his music and exposing the seedy underpinnings of rock music’s artistic culture, Reed blazed a path for artists around the world. His death is a great loss for the rock and roll community.

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