Mick Jagger: He had style – that attitudinal New York hipster style. He was quite rude in interviews, but in person he was actually quite friendly – just not over-effusive. He wasn’t a schmoozer, which was good. Everyone talks about punk, but to me he was the Johnny Cash of New York rock; he was always the man in black. I used to have him over occasionally in New York, and later he used to come and visit Mustique [in the West Indies], which is not the most obvious place for Lou Reed to go on vacation. Lots of posh English people. But when I would see him there, he still had that style going on.
The surprise for me was “Walk on the Wild Side.” It was melodic, really good, very original, with the background singing and acoustic bass – an original way of presenting him. But “I’m Waiting for the Man” was my first big Lou Reed tune. I liked it because it was so minimalist in the arrangement and the chords – and the guitar sound on it was grunge before there was grunge, way back in 1967.
Sam Shepard: In the Sixties, I was in a band called the Holy Modal Rounders, and we opened for the Velvet Underground in Boston. Nico was there. They had that incredible sound with Cale fucking up the viola over the top. Remember that first album, with the shattering glass coming down in “European Son”? It sounds like a windowpane crashing. The Rolling Stones didn’t do anything like that! That was a hell of a band. My band’s drug of choice was crystal meth, but the Velvets were talking about heroin!
Lou was an extraordinary lyricist. His lyrics were an incredible combination of imagery and hieroglyphics. “The people all call her Alaska/Between worlds because the people ask her/’Cause it’s all in her mind” – one of the great lines. Or that line in “Sweet Jane”: “Everyone who ever had a heart/Oh, they wouldn’t turn around and break it/And anyone who ever played a part/Oh, they wouldn’t turn around and hate it.” Wow! He was writing in the present, from his own experience, sort of like David Foster Wallace, the kind of writer who comes from an angle no one else would think of.
Dion DiMucci: I was having lunch with him once and he blurted out, “The only fear I have is living in suburbia.” I thought it was so funny. People have called Lou a difficult guy, but he was so humble around me, and so sweet. I hate to be uncool about it, but there was great love there.
Albert Hammond Jr.: I remember listening to Loaded with Julian Casablancas at our apartment on 18th Street over and over again. It was the spark that started the Strokes. We wanted to get that warm sound, that vibe. Lou was talking about reality in a way that made us think we could too. He was talking about sex and drugs and real life; it had a huge effect on Julian’s lyrics.
In our early days, we kept running into Lou. Once he was doing a book signing at Barnes & Noble, and Julian and I went. We argued about who would go up to him; finally, Julian asked, “Can I get this signed?” Lou looked around, and there was no pen, and he said, “What, am I going to do it with my own blood?” – it was condescending, but it was so awesome.
Later, we heard Lou liked our music; we did “Walk on the Wild Side” with him at Rolling Stone‘s 1,000th-issue party in 2006. We walked offstage, he was getting emotional; he was very moved by it. It was such a great feeling. It gives me goose bumps talking about it now.
Michael Stipe: Musically, Lou Reed was profoundly important, but there was another component to his public persona that cannot be overlooked: He was the first queer icon of the 21st century, 30 years before it even began.
As early as the late 1960s, Lou proclaimed with beautifully confusing candidness a much more 21st-century understanding of a fluid, moving sexuality. He saw beyond – and lived outside – a society locked into a simplistic straight/gay binary division. Through his public persona, his art and music, he boldly refused labels, very publicly mixing things up and providing a “Whoa, that’s possible?” avenue of sexual exploration and identity examination, all with whip-smart nonchalance. He was indefinable, he was other, he was outside of society. He spearheaded a new cool, and he did not care if you “got it” or not. Lots of people did get it: Bowie, Iggy, the New York Dolls, Freddie Mercury and Queen, Elton John, Marc Bolan, Brian Eno and Roxy Music; and then punk rock, with Patti Smith, Television, the Damned, the Stranglers, the Sex Pistols; at the same time the Bee Gees, the Village People, Grace Jones; and through to Joy Division, the B-52s, Madonna, Prince, Culture Club, Depeche Mode, the Beastie Boys, the Smiths, R.E.M., the Replacements, Jane’s Addiction, the Pixies, Nirvana, Björk, Antony and the Johnsons, Peaches, Scissor Sisters, Lady Gaga . . . every second, the list grows exponentially. Lou Reed was massively important to “Island of Misfit Toys” kids. Every single child of the 21st century who is not square owes him a moment of reflection and thanks.
Julian Schnabel: I think he never felt quite satisfied. He felt vindicated by the 2006 live revival of Berlin a few years ago, but a few days before his death we were watching the movie we made of that, and he said, “Does anybody know?” He never felt like people really got it. He always felt, in a way, unappreciated, which is crazy. He wrote lyrics and talked about things that just were so specific, and of a world of emotions that hadn’t really been included in rock & roll songs.
Somebody said the Velvet Underground had only a few thousand fans, but they all started bands. When you really hear Lou‘s voice and you think of punk-rock music and you think of what happened – he opened up the floodgates, the door where that gritty reality could be displayed.