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Lewis Allan "Lou" Reed (born March 2, 1942) is an American rock musician, songwriter, and photographer. He is best known as guitarist, vocalist, and principal songwriter of The Velvet Underground, and for his solo career, which has spanned several decades. Though the Velvet Underground were a commercial failure in the late 1960s, the group has gained a considerable cult following in the years since its demise and has gone on to become one of the most widely cited and influential bands of the era. As the Velvet Underground's principal songwriter, Reed wrote about subjects of personal experience that rarely had been examined so openly in rock and roll, including sexuality and drug culture.
After his departure from the group, Reed began a solo career in 1971. He had a hit the following year with "Walk on the Wild Side", although he subsequently lacked the mainstream commercial success its chart status seemed to indicate. Reed's work as a solo artist frustrated critics wishing for a return of the Velvet Underground. In 1975, Reed released a double album of feedback loops, Metal Machine Music, upon which he later commented, "No one is supposed to be able to do a thing like that and survive."
In 2008, Reed married performance artist Laurie Anderson.Reed was born at Beth El Hospital 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 is the son of Toby (née Futterman) and Sidney Joseph Reed, an accountant. His family was Jewish.
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 a number of bands. His first recording was as a member of a doo wop-style group called The Jades. In 1956, Reed, who is bisexual, received electroconvulsive therapy as a teenager, which was intended to cure his bisexuality; 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 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."
—Lou Reed quoted in Please Kill Me (1996)
Reed began attending Syracuse University in the fall of 1960, studying journalism, film directing, and creative writing. 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, notably Ornette Coleman. Reed graduated from Syracuse University's College of Arts and Sciences with a B.A. in June 1964.
Poet Delmore Schwartz taught at Syracuse University and befriended Reed, who in 1966 dedicated the song "European Son," from the Velvet Underground's debut album The Velvet Underground & Nico, to Schwartz. In 1982, Reed recorded "My House" 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.
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