Lou Reed died yesterday. Whether you thought he was a genius, a curmudgeon, or knew him only as that guy from the Stefan Sagmeister album cover, he was an artist who never stopped trying new things.
He wrote songs, performed music, took photographs, did voiceovers, made books, produced others’ albums, and did T’ai Chi up to hours before his death. People thought some of these things were great (“Walk on the Wild Side,” “Sweet Jane”) and they thought that some of these things were terrible (the entirety of “Metal Machine Music”). Most people were indifferent to a lot of it because it didn’t appear on their radar (Reed’s double CD “The Raven,” of songs influenced by Edgar Allen Poe, for instance).
But the greatest thing about Lou Reed, and the reason every single designer or creator of any kind should tip their hat to him, is that he didn’t ever stop making new things. He could have spent his life turning out a catalogue of Underground Velvet-esque tunes, or exempted himself from a creative life with a dramatic pronouncement that art or music was dead, but he didn’t.
His omnipresent dark sunglasses were said to have been a suggestion from Andy Warhol, that they made Reed look cooler. An alternative theory is that they functioned as blinders, allowing him to move from project to project without being mired in anyone else’s reaction.
What would the design landscape look like if we took more Reed-like risks? There’d be no shortage of misfires, but there would no doubt also be some amazing discoveries, the kind that will prompt people to talk about them long after we’re gone.