When Lou Reed was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame the first time, as part of the Velvet Underground in 1996, his acceptance speech was short and sweet.
"I'd like to thank all the people who worked so hard to get us in," Reed said at the ceremony at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel. "And I just wanted to say how much we regret that our friend and fellow musician Sterling Morrison couldn't be with us. Thank you."
Next Saturday, when Reed is inducted a second time, as a solo artist, he is the one who will be missed. Reed, who grew up in Freeport and died of liver failure in Southampton in 2013, will be inducted in Cleveland by Patti Smith, who also did the honors for the Velvet Underground. Grammy winner Beck will perform some of Reed's solo material in tribute.
Jason Hanley, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum's director of education, says that Reed's solo career is similar to Bob Dylan's in terms of songwriting and storytelling, though their subject matter was quite different.
"Lou Reed talked about the underside, the dirty side, the hidden corners of our lives," Hanley says. "He was bringing what was usually hidden into the light, which was maybe uncomfortable for some people. But when you put this great music behind it, it became a really powerful statement."
It couldn't get much more powerful than Reed's signature solo song "Walk on the Wild Side," which somehow hit the Top 20 on the pop charts in 1973, despite its discussion of sex, drugs and prostitutes.
Part of the power of Reed's music was always the sense of place in his songs, Hanley says. "In some ways, Lou Reed is a part of New York in the way Woody Allen is as a filmmaker," he says. "Even when he's not necessarily saying what city it is, you always feel that it's probably New York."
Reed was also influential because of his embrace of various rock styles. "He was always trying to write really important songs that said something," Hanley says. "But he was also looking at what was out there, what the current state of rock and roll was. He always brought some of that into his music so that he sounded different as he progressed. . . . It was all part of his openness as an artist. He was always innovating."
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