At a 1998 White House dinner honoring former Czech Republic President Václav Havel, then first-lady Hillary Clinton said, “The Velvet Underground became the Velvet Revolution.”
Lou Reed, leader of the seminal rock band the Velvet Underground, passed away yesterday at age 71. But his legacy lives on partially on every current map. Legend has it that his band's music played a major role in the uprising that led to the downfall of communism in Eastern Europe, and thus the creation of the Czech Republic.
When it was released in 1967, the band's album, The Velvet Underground and Nico, shocked audiences with songs discussing themes like heroin addiction and beating your girlfriend. Rolling Stone called the album "a full-fledged attack on the ears and on the brain." It was unruly, and it outright challenged the orderliness of the music industry—perfect for an oppressed people.
When copies of the album clandestinely made it to what was then Czechoslovakia, the country’s oppressed underground scene latched on, inspiring a new generation of revolutionary bands.
Take for example the Plastic People of the Universe, a band heavily inspired by the Velvet Underground. They were even arrested by the Communist government in 1976.
The arrest led future president Vaclav Havel to form an organization known as Chapter 77, arguably the most influential human rights group in modern history. Ultimately, they were the ones who made the first cracks in the Iron Curtain.
When meeting Reed post-Velvet Revolution in 1990, and after winning Czechoslovakia’s first democratic elections since 1946, Reason reports that Havel told him, "Did you know that I am president because of you?"
Havel passed away in 2011, and many consider him among the great human rights activists of our time, among names such as Nelson Mandela.
So remember, taking a walk on the wild side every once in a while can change the world. May Lou Reed, the man and the legend rest in peace. The United States will never forget you, and neither will Eastern Europe.
And now for some of the songs that inspired millions, including a cover of Sweet Jane by the Plastic People of the Universe:
Daniel Rivero is a producer/reporter for Fusion who focuses on police and justice issues. He also skateboards, does a bunch of arts related things on his off time, and likes Cuban coffee.