That dichotomy — blunt rock-and-roll catharsis and stark lyrical realism — would define Reed’s staggering vocation, which spanned many years of continual aesthetic reinvention from his 1st act with the Velvet Underground all the way to his loss of life from liver condition in 2013. But a new collection, “Words & Songs: May perhaps 1965,” the initial of a planned archival collection from Mild in the Attic Documents, captures this perpetually evolving, consistently transgressive artist in the unlikeliest guise of all: folkie tunesmith.
The launch includes acoustic demos of some of Reed’s very best-identified tracks, such as “Heroin” and “I’m Ready for the Guy,” a couple of lesser-known treasures these kinds of as “Wrap Your Problems in Desires,” and a handful that have by no means been unveiled in any variety. Nevertheless they feature his Velvet Underground partner and on-and-off musical foil John Cale on harmonies and accompanying instrumentation, these handmade recordings predate the duo’s earliest total-band sessions and have none of the Velvets’ fearless spaciousness and avant-garde ambitions. This is an intimate document of two newfound close friends discovering a seem that would form numerous musicians and designs in their wake. For followers, and for the multiple generations who revere Reed as a inventive, even philosophical lodestar, “Words & Music” is a thing like a previously undiscovered early draft of “Romeo and Juliet.”
“When I hear to these ’65 demos, it feels like such a poetic entrance, the roots of what came subsequent,” Mild in the Attic founder and co-operator Matt Sullivan claims. “You can hear the conquer era, you can hear him and John merging. But you can hear elements of punk rock, as well. When you hear ‘Heroin’ or ‘Waiting for the Man’ broken down, it’s a reminder of Lou’s songwriting, the mix of road poetry with rock-and-roll.”
“Words & Music” was produced in partnership with Reed’s archivists and his widow, the esteemed musician and theater artist Laurie Anderson. She and Reed achieved in the 1990s and grew to become a variety of dwelling New York landmark for the closing two decades of his daily life — inseparable twin geniuses symbolizing totally distinctive realms of the Manhattan resourceful world. Talking by Skype, Anderson claims the May well 1965 tape “sounds particularly like the Lou I understood. It’s the ghost of a incredibly bold youthful guy who was working songs out. He’s laughing, he’s poking around. It’s the exact particular person. You can listen to somebody taking probabilities.”
Reed was an exemplary prospect-taker in his everyday living and artwork, which is why “Words & Music” just cannot be dismissed as mere juvenilia. Certainly, it features the earliest iterations of his defining perform, but it also captures him at a minute and in a placing that even the deepest devotee has by no means expert. And with Reed, moments and settings are everything. Just before he was a black-clad denizen of the Warhol demimonde, a punk progenitor, a pet dog-collared violator of sexual boundaries, a critic-baiting chronicler of New York deviancy, a defiantly “average guy” stadium rocker, a collaborator with Metallica, an interpreter of Edgar Allan Poe, and ultimately, an elder statesman with a yen for tai chi and meditation, Reed was simply a younger gentleman with a guitar and an armload of disparate influences. He was an English main, a Dylan supporter and, above all, a writer.
When Reed biographer Anthony DeCurtis very first heard the “Words & Music” recordings, it was Reed’s writing that struck him most forcefully. “He’d been actively playing in bands considering that he was 14,” DeCurtis states, and the tape reveals him “mimicking so quite a few types of songs. But on this, the lyrics are infinitely farther together than the tunes.”
From DeCurtis’s 2017 e-book “Lou Reed: A Life,” we know that early 1965 was an uncertain but decisive period of time in the man’s lifestyle. He lived with his parents on Extended Island, but he expended substantially of his time in Queens, creating numerous tunes for the teen-music manufacturing unit Pickwick Information, and in Manhattan, consorting with Cale, a Welsh experimental-classical prodigy who joined the Primitives to efficiently slum as a rock-and-roller.
The common, reductive origin tale of the Velvet Underground suggests Reed brought the pop songcraft and seedy lyrical eyesight, when Cale introduced droning ambiance and exploded the musical boundaries of pop entirely. But that does not make clear why an arch ultramodernist like Cale would consider so fondly to a doo-wop admirer like Reed in the initial place, to the stage exactly where people-averse Cale could soon be uncovered busking with his songwriter close friend in Harlem. A mutual affinity for medicines certainly played a position, but “Words & Music” will make their connection clearer: Reed’s producing was so grippingly special that Cale saw the overlap in their sensibilities.
Acquire “Heroin,” for illustration, a wellspring of what would afterwards be called punk or choice, the “Like a Rolling Stone” of commercially insouciant rock songs. On 1967’s “The Velvet Underground & Nico,” Reed’s suitable debut as a recording artist, the song is an incantation, a feeling-journey by way of the languorous rapture and nightmarish hurry of an opioid superior. But the harrowing lyrics, we now know, were essentially comprehensive nicely in advance of the duo met their benefactor and protector Andy Warhol, and extra than a yr prior to they recorded the epochal model with Maureen Tucker and Sterling Morrison on percussion and guitar, respectively. The “Words & Music” rendition has a similar if much fewer remarkable musical framework Reed and Cale velocity up and sluggish down. But they or else treat it like a campfire singalong. The earth-switching musical vision was still to appear.
On the other hand, a 1965 edition of “Pale Blue Eyes” is musically comparable to the crystalline ballad that ultimately appeared on the Velvet Underground’s 1969 self-titled album (their initially with no Cale), but the lyrics in this article are totally unique other than for its refrain. The tune originated at Syracuse, in which Reed wrote it for his most crucial early girlfriend, Shelley Albin. In 1965, it was an almost childish ditty about jealousy. By this place, Albin had by now remaining him subsequent his borderline abusive cure when she married immediately after faculty, he remained besotted, frequently begging her to depart her partner. Now we can see that he carried the skeleton of this heartbreaking track in his head for a long time, rewriting its verses till it grew to become vexingly self-incriminating and rueful, a significant position of Reed’s gentlest, most elaborate tendencies.
“Words & Music” is certainly a demo in the sense that the young songwriter seems to have recorded it generally for copyright reasons. The tape survived since he mailed it to himself and held on to the unopened bundle for the rest of his lifestyle, nearly a half-century. If that seems oddly fastidious, Reed’s archivists, Jason Stern and Don Fleming, say he retained an great amount of money of documentation throughout his entire career, from phase costumes to tollbooth receipts. (His sister Merrill evidently thinks this was the influence of their accountant father.)
Almost all this product was donated by Anderson to the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts at Lincoln Middle, the place an immersive multimedia exhibition, “Lou Reed: Caught Amongst the Twisted Stars,” is working through March 2023. Amongst this no cost celebration, the freshly inaugurated sequence from Mild in the Attic, a current Velvet Underground documentary from filmmaker Todd Haynes and even DeCurtis’s doorstop, Reed has grow to be the subject matter of major mainstream review and preservation in a way that his mercurial artwork and confrontational status built challenging throughout his everyday living.
Anderson has insisted, even so, that her husband’s posthumous legacy be as rapid and obtainable as the feelings in Reed’s music. “I want this and the NYPL exhibit to be open up to absolutely everyone,” she states. “Not a white-glove issue. Any kid beginning a band, any one, can now listen to him hunting all-around.”
For Anderson, the most essential track on “Words & Music” is “Men of Great Fortune,” which shares a title and nothing at all else with a observe from Reed’s 1973 junkie-romance strategy document “Berlin,” sometimes cited as the most depressing album at any time made. Instead of that record’s grandiose production and lurid lyrics, the 1965 “Men” resembles a Youngster Ballad, the kind of British tale-music that inspired early American folk new music and its 1960s revivalists. It is a unhappy waltz sung by a younger “maiden” who misses her opportunity at relationship because of her mother’s warnings about wayward guys.
What could be fewer in character from the guy who wrote “Walk on the Wild Side,” permit alone “Sex With Your Parents”? But as Anderson notes, Reed would go on to create gorgeously from a female standpoint in music like “Stephanie Says” and “Candy Claims.” Like every thing on “Words & New music,” “Men of Fantastic Fortune” foretells his long run as much as it resembles the past.
“He turned a little female to publish that music, in his small pink outfit,” Anderson says. “He was Shakespearean: He could step into people’s minds. He did not self-pity in his music, he went outdoors. He observed all these people, he impersonated them, went into their minds. This is a very distinctive songwriter. The significance of this document is you see he always was.”