Reed’s bleak but spirited songs, many of which placed drug abuse in the context of social and emotional breakdown, inspired a generation of punks, goths and other musical outsiders.
With his band The Velvet Underground and in his diverse solo albums, Reed brought into popular music a sensibility formed by Beat literature and New York street culture.
Without glamourising drug abuse, he explored – in songs such as ‘Perfect Day’ and ‘Caroline Says II’ – the experience of drugs such as heroin, amphetamine and Valium as a subjective world and a part of the individual’s psychic economy.
Reed had issues with the medical profession: as a teenager, he was forced to undergo ECT as a ‘treatment’ for homosexuality. In his song ‘Heroin’ an addict tells those trying to “help” him: You can all go take a walk.
However, in later life Reed’s experience of medication was more legal and constructive, and in 2012 he declared: “I’m a miracle of modern medicine.”
In the 1970s, the music papers were updating their draft Lou Reed obituaries on a regular basis – but his death, five months after a liver transplant, leaves many people shocked and bereft. The world is a smaller place without him.
Reed insisted that drug users and other disturbed people should be regarded as individuals, not stereotyped as heroes or victims: Take the blue mask from off my face, and look me in the eye.