The impact of Lou Reed both as a solo artist and through his great work with The Velvet Underground is unquantifiable. He laid down a marker which the rest of alternative music would follow, including R.E.M. and Michael Stipe holds nothing but admiration for Reed.
Stipe isn’t quite old enough to have lived through The Velvet Underground to soundtrack his adolescence, but once they infected his life, the pioneering group continued to play a crucial role up until this day. They have been everpresent throughout his existence and a perfect accompaniment for the former R.E.M. singer on his victories and losses.
His love of bands who emerged from the historic CBGBs scene in New York City alerted Stipe to The Velvet Underground, and his interest piqued in the group when suddenly all of his heroes named them as being the torchbearers to their sound.
“It was my first discovery of the Velvets, when all the CBGB bands namechecked their heroes,” Stipe revealed following Reed’s death in 2013. He continued, “I went looking, and I found Loaded and 1969: The Velvet Underground Live in the 8-track cutout bins of Grandpa’s Hardware store in Cahokia Mounds, Illinois.”
From the moment he bought those pair of records, it finally clicked why The Velvets were the glue that meshed all of his favourite bands together. The only shame for Stipe was that The Velvet Underground had ceased to exist years prior, and watching them live was out of the equation. Instead, he headed to watch Lou Reed, who provided him with a night that he’s never forgotten.
“My first Lou show was at the Fox Theater in St. Louis, in 1977, where he opened the set with two songs, stopped and shouted something offstage, pointed to the monitors, and did a third song,” he revealed. “Halfway through that song, he stopped, pointed to the monitors again, and gestured for someone stage right to join him centre stage.
“The monitor guy walked out, Lou pointed at the monitors again–turned and clocked the guy–kicked the monitors into the orchestra pit, and stormed offstage. That was the end of the show. Ok, wow. I was 17, wide-eyed, wowed.”
17 is an age where everything is changing, and that show could not have arrived at a more critical time in Stipe’s life. Ever since he caught Reed in action, his music cemented itself as one of the few constants in his life, and they even chalked up a budding friendship after R.E.M. rose to fame.
“For 37 years, I followed him, in many ways–not the least being his influence on my own trajectory in music,” Stipe’s eulogy continued. “The last time I saw Lou, I complimented him on a searing version of a blues song and one of his new songs that he had just performed live here in N.Y.C. His energy and performance had brought me to tears. He wore a beautiful leather jacket that he didn’t take off.”
Stipe emotionally concluded, “He hugged me, as he now did quite often; and he didn’t let go for a very long time. To my favourite curmudgeon, grump, genius, icon, pal. We and I will miss you very, very much.”
Reed is a ubiquitous name that every musician worth their salt holds in the utmost esteem, and if they don’t have anything but transcendent words to offer about him, then they aren’t worth your time.
We all know that The Velvets never sold out Shea Stadium or caused pandemonium during their initial tenure together. Still, almost every album in your record collection has been influenced to a degree by them, and Reed’s magical musical fingers are impossible to ignore.