Lou Reed Archives Acquired by New York Public Library


Lou Reed Archives Acquired by New York Public Library

–Russell Hall

Lou Reed’s vast personal collection of materials related to his life and work have found the perfect home. On March 2, on what would have been the musician’s 75th birthday, the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts—along with Reed’s widow, Laurie Anderson—announced that the Library is acquiring Reed’s complete archives. Over the next two weeks, the Library will host free displays and public programs to celebrate and showcase Reed’s life and artistry.

The Lou Reed Archive consists of approximately 300 linear feet of paper records, electronic records and photographs—as well as roughly 3,600 audio recordings and 1,300 video recordings. The Archive documents the history of Reed’s life as a musician, composer, poet, writer, photographer and tai-chi student through his own extensive papers, photographs, recordings and other collections of materials. The sweeping scope of Reed’s creative life is covered—from his 1958 Freeport High School band, the Shades, his job as a staff songwriter for the budget music label Pickwick Records, and his rise to prominence through the Velvet Underground and subsequent solo career, to his final performances in 2013. Studio notes, galleys and proofs, master and unreleased recordings, business papers, personal correspondence, poster art, fan gifts and Reed’s photography collection are all part of the extensive materials.

The formation of the Archive was initiated and guided by Anderson, with help from Reed’s personal archivists Jason Stern and Jim Cass, and independent archivist Don Fleming.

“The archive is a panoramic picture of Lou’s music, pictures, friendships, writing, tai chi and performances as well as a recreation of the scenes and cities he worked in and loved,” said Anderson. “What better place to have this than in the heart of the city he loved the best? It takes a while to see a life as a whole and now that the first step of the archive is complete we can step back and begin to see some dazzling new patterns in the work Lou made in his long and intense life as an artist. My archive team headed by Don Fleming and assisted by Jason Stern and Jim Cass assembled and organized the things he left. In the process they found some real treasures. Being part of this assembly has been one of the most intense experiences of my life. His many worlds are brought back to life in this marvelous work. My dream has always been to make Lou’s work completely accessible to the public. You don’t have to have any special credentials. The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts has made this possible.”

Displays of material from the Archive—including personal artifacts, notebooks, correspondence, and other previously unseen material—will be on public view at the Library and the Schwarzman Building through March 20. In addition, there will be two special public events: a performance of “The Raven” and Reed’s poetry at the Library for the Performing Arts on March 13, and a performance of “Drones” at the Schwarzman Building on March 15. Both events are free and open to the public, but advance registration is required.

As indicated in a press release, The Lou Reed Archive includes:

Original manuscript, lyrics, poetry and handwritten tai-chi notes

Photographs of Reed- including artist prints and inscriptions by the photographers

Tour itineraries, agreements, road manager notes & paperwork

600+ hours of live recordings, demos, studio recordings and interviews

Reed’s own extensive photography work

Album, book, and tour artwork: mock-ups, proofs and match-prints

Lou Reed album and concert posters, handbills, programs, and promotional items

Lou Reed press for albums, tours, performances, books, and photography exhibits

Fan mail

Personal collections of books, LPs and 45s

The collection documents collaborations, friendships, and relationships with Delmore Schwartz, Andy Warhol, John Cale, Maureen Tucker, Sterling Morrison, Mick Rock, Robert Quine, Sylvia Ramos, Doc Pomus, Václav Havel, Hal Willner, John Zorn, Robert Wilson, Julian Schnabel, and Laurie Anderson.

The audio and video collection includes over 600 hours of original demos; studio recordings; live recordings; and interviews from 1965 to 2013. All of Reed’s major tours and many of his guest performances are represented in the collection. An excellent example is 25 hours of original recordings documenting his 1978 run at the Bottom Line in NYC from which the Take No Prisoners live album was derived. One of the rarest and most interesting items in the collection is a 5” reel to reel that Reed mailed to himself in May of 1965. It was common at the time for songwriters to create a “poor man’s copyright” by sending a recording of a new song to themselves and then not opening the package, thereby establishing a copyright date with the postmark. The package remains unopened. It is believed to be from the first Velvet Underground demo sessions that occurred on May 11, 1965, at Pickwick’s studios in Queens. It could be that it’s one or more of those demos, which included the first two recorded versions of Heroin. Or it could be an unknown composition. It’s still being decided when, and if, to break the seal on the package.

Lou Reed’s iconic persona was captured in photographs numerous noted photographers who trained their lenses on Lou at concerts or for album artwork and press features are represented in the archive by copies or original artist proofs, many of which are inscribed. This collection of photographs covers the extent of his artistic career from a 1958 variety show performance by the Shades to Reed’s final public performances in 2013. The collection includes contact sheets, negatives and unpublished photographs.

Reed’s own photography is also represented in the collection. Reed began working with photography in the 1970s when, inspired by the work of Billy Name, he modified a video camera to make high-contrast images. Over the years he captured over 10,000 images. In 2006 at the Steven Kasher Gallery Reed held his first major New York photography exhibit, Lou Reed: New York. He published several photo books, including Romanticism, a series of landscapes shot largely with a digital camera converted to create infrared images. This work was shown in 2009 at the Adamson Gallery in Washington, D.C. Reed took photographs in New York, Scotland, Denmark, Spain, Rome, China and Big Sur.

In summary, the press release notes that Reed was a lifelong resident of New York whose work was uniquely informed by his experience and love of that great city. “The Lou Reed Archive is a matchless record of Reed’s iconic career and a vital resource for scholarship, study, exhibition and dissemination of his work, as well as a dynamic resource for studies of the cultural and musical renaissance that Reed significantly influenced,” reads the statement. For addition information, including details regarding how to register for the special public events, click here.