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Singer, songwriter Lou Reed dead at 71

NEW YORK CITY – U.S. singer-songwriter Lou Reed, a pioneer who melded folk music’s lyricism with punk rock’s energy and darkness died Sunday of complications following liver surgery.

Reed’s literary agent Andrew Wylie confirmed news reports of his client’s sudden death, at the age of 71.

“He died this morning at 11 in Long Island,” Wylie told AFP.

“The reason was complications following the liver transplant,” he said, referring to an operation that Reed had undergone in May.

Viewed by many as the godfather of punk, Brooklyn-born Reed forged a new cultural universe with his arthouse band the Velvet Underground, in an age of evolving youth identity.

Formed by Reed and John Cale, the band was popular throughout the 1960s. And its frontman’s association of the era’s pop art luminary Andy Warhol helped land a hip and burgeoning following, with the colorful artist doing the instantly iconic cover art for the band’s self-titled debut album.

Warhol became the Velvets’ manager in 1965, and they provided music for his multimedia roadshow the Exploding Plastic Inevitable, and became the house band at his famed New York studio, The Factory.

Reed became not only rock’s most famous chronicler of city life, but had an indelible influence on generations of rock bands such as REM, Nirvana and Sonic Youth, among many others.

One such artist, Lenny Kravitz, led the tributes on Twitter.

“Lou, rest in peace on the wild side,” he tweeted, while Hollywood stars also wrote messages of condolence.

“R.I.P. Lou Reed. Just met at the GQ Awards. The music of my generation. Still Relevant!,” said the actor Samuel L. Jackson.

The actress Susan Sarandon tweeted: “NY lost one of its originals with Lou Reed’s passing. So sad. RIP.”

Reed left the Velvets in 1970 and among his best-known works was “Walk on the Wild Side,” an ode to the underground sex- and drug-fueled lifestyle of a cross-dresser, with explosive lyrics, an unforgettable drum-and-bass shuffle and controversial “colored girls” backup singers.

However, much like Joni Mitchell’s “Stardust” which signaled the end of the Woodstock-tinged hippie era, “Walk on the Wild Side” seemed to bring the curtain down on arthouse lugubrious excess.

And for all of the accolades, not everyone was a fan of Reed’s work.

He infuriated critics – as well as some of his dearest fans – when he released in 1975 his “Metal Machine Music,” a 65-minute noise opus drenched in guitar feedback deemed unlistenable by most who heard it.

In 1979, Rolling Stone magazine derided it as “ear-wrecking electronic sludge.”

Yet decades beyond the Velvets’ reign as New York’s pre-eminent black-clad hipsters, Reed remained cool as ever in the eyes of music aficionados, often seen rocking leather pants and sipping chamomile tea.

His solo career undertook something of a renaissance in 1997 when “Perfect Day,” his 1972 hit was featured in “Trainspotting,” the Edinburgh-set film about heroin addiction. A special version of the song, with the voices of stars including Bono of U2 and David Bowie, went on sale as a charity single in Britain and it topped the charts for three weeks.

The Velvet Underground was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1996.

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