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Musician Lou Reed dies at 71 -

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DAVID MARK: One of rock and roll's great songwriters and innovators, Lou Reed, died overnight. He was 71.

All day musicians and artists have been paying tribute to the man who formed the Velvet Underground in the mid-60s and subsequently produced a hugely influential body of work with that band and as a solo-artist.

Songs like Waiting for My Man, Sweet Jane, Walk on the Wild Side, and Perfect Day have become rock and roll classics.

The musician and music critic for The Australian, Iain Shedden, was a fan and also a victim of Lou Reed's notoriously acerbic attitude towards interviewers.

I began by asking him what impact the first Velvet Underground album had when it was first released in 1967.

IAIN SHEDDEN: Virtually none. They had very little commercial success for the length of their entire career, which was only five or six years. But in retrospect really, they've become one of the most, you know, revered bands in the history of rock.

DAVID MARK: Brian Eno said of that album, that it only sold 30,000 copies but that everyone who bought it formed a band of their own.

IAIN SHEDDEN: That's one of the great quotes, but it's not too far from the truth.

DAVID MARK: Well that's right. Is there any truth in it?

IAIN SHEDDEN: Well certainly those early Velvets albums had a huge influence on the punk era that came about later, not just in New York, but in the UK as well, and in Australia. A lot of people became aware of the Velvet Underground for the first time in that mid- to late-70s period.

DAVID MARK: What was so important about that album, The Velvet Underground, their sound that influenced so many bands?

IAIN SHEDDEN: Well it was unlike anything that had come before, first of all. And it was also dealing with issues that hadn't really been addressed in quite that way before. I mean Reed was talking about the seedy underbelly of New York, the drug culture, the prostitute culture, the art culture; all of those things that were simmering in New York in the 60s.

DAVID MARK: He battled heroin addiction; every second Velvet Underground song it seems is about heroin. And yet he seemed to manage to have a career despite that. To what extent did drug use have a role in his career and his ability to work?

IAIN SHEDDEN: Well clearly in the early days of the Velvets and his early solo career, he was consuming any number of things. And, you know, he tried to cure himself of heroin by drinking more and he was taking amphetamines. And remarkably he came through that.

I think the culture more than probably the actual taking of the drugs had an influence. If you look at all those songs, including Heroin and White Light/White Heat, you know, about amphetamines, and a lot of the other songs that have drugs in them, he was more of an observer than actually talking about the experience of taking them.

DAVID MARK: He's known for his collaboration with Andy Warhol, he's known as a poet to a certain extent. But no-one really ever talks about his musicality. Was he a gifted musician or was he someone who just combined the right elements at the right time?

IAIN SHEDDEN: No he really was, and that's something that isn't always mentioned, but a great songwriter, clearly, and such a distinctive voice, but also a very accomplished guitar player. Guitar playing was something that he was very passionate about and something that he spent a lot of time doing to perfect it. And you know, a prickly conversation for a journalist, I know from experience, but if you got him onto the subject of guitars, he would go on and on and on.

DAVID MARK: You mentioned earlier he is known for being notoriously difficult to interview and you had that privilege three times. Tell us about it.

IAIN SHEDDEN: I did, and the first time was absolutely white knuckle material because there was a few journalists in Sydney sitting outside his hotel room with great fear and trepidation about what was going to happen. And it was scary, and he was terrible.

DAVID MARK: Did he bite your head off?

IAIN SHEDDEN: I thought I was getting by until about the third question when he said, "What sort of idiotic question is that?" And I was asking him about drugs admittedly, and he had been a long time straight by then, but that was the beginning of it.

But I found that if you gave back as good as you were getting he would warm to that. And he would warm up and start talking more. And that's what I did, and he started talking about music a lot more and that was great.

DAVID MARK: He's very well known for his early body of work in the late-60s and early 70s, not so much for his later work. What's his legacy going to be?

IAIN SHEDDEN: Well I think everyone agrees that it's that body of work between 1967 and 1974/75 that is the essence of it. I think he has to be remembered as one of the most influential songwriters of his generation. There are so many successful artists around the world, including in Australia, who would cite Lou Reed as a major influence on their song writing. Very few could match that other than perhaps the Beatles and the Stones.

DAVID MARK: That's the music critic for The Australian, Iain Shedden, on the death of Lou Reed.