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Listen: Czech Dissidents Cover Lou Reed, Inspire Vaclav Havel

The Velvet Underground and the Velvet Revolution

Lou Reed, who died today at 71, was a legendary musician—but not a big seller. The first album by the Velvet Underground, his seminal band, sold only 30,000. But, according to Brian Eno's famous line about the band, every one of those 30,000 buyers started their own rock band.

But while Reed's fans may have upended popular rock music over the past few decades, his greatest impact may have been with an act that sold even fewer records than he did: The Plastic People of the Universe, a Cold War-era Czech act that briefly flourished before being prosecuted and harassed by the country's Communist Party government.

That prosecution, in turn, helped push Vaclav Havel to write the Charter 77, a demand for human rights that became an international cause celbre. The uprising that helped overthrow the regime, in turn, took its name from Reed's old band: The Velvet Revolution. Havel spoke during the revolution about Reed's influence on him, and appeared with him after he had become the Czech president.

Here's the Plastic People of the Universe covering Reed's "Sweet Jane":