Lou Reed

The career of Lou Reed defied capsule summarization. Like David Bowie (whom Reed directly inspired in many ways), he made over his image many times, mutating from theatrical glam rocker to strung-out junkie to avant-garde noiseman to straight rock & roller to your average guy. Few would deny Reed's immense importance and considerable achievements. As has often been written, he expanded the vocabulary of rock & roll lyrics into the previously forbidden territory of kinky sex, drug use (and abuse), decadence, transvestites, homosexuality, and suicidal depression. As has been pointed out less often, he remained committed to using rock & roll as a forum for literary, mature expression throughout his artistic life, without growing lyrically soft or musically complacent. By and large, he took on these challenging duties with uncompromising honesty and a high degree of realism. For these reasons, he was often cited as punk's most important ancestor. It's often overlooked, though, that he was equally skilled at celebrating romantic joy, and rock & roll itself, as he was at depicting harrowing urban realities. With the exception of Neil Young, no other star who rose to fame in the '60s continued to push himself so diligently into creating work that was, and remains, meaningful and contemporary.