Lou Reed’s earliest ‘Words and Music’ display an artist’s earliest incarnation

In the spring of 1965, Lou Reed was scarcely 23 and significantly less than a 12 months taken off from his college graduation. He had just professional his 1st musical success, fronting a swiftly thrown-together band identified as the Primitives on a published-to-order garage rock solitary referred to as “The Ostrich,” but he was also nevertheless in thrall to the author Delmore Schwartz, his Syracuse College instructor-mentor who insisted that literary art must mirror the blood and guts of true-daily life emotional battle.

That dichotomy — blunt rock-and-roll catharsis and stark lyrical realism — would determine Reed’s staggering vocation, which spanned many years of continual aesthetic reinvention from his very first act with the Velvet Underground all the way to his dying from liver sickness in 2013. But a new assortment, “Words & Tunes: Could 1965,” the initial of a planned archival series from Mild in the Attic Information, captures this perpetually evolving, constantly transgressive artist in the unlikeliest guise of all: folkie tunesmith.

The release contains acoustic demos of some of Reed’s ideal-acknowledged tunes, such as “Heroin” and “I’m Ready for the Guy,” a few of lesser-identified treasures this kind of as “Wrap Your Troubles in Dreams,” and a handful that have in no way been produced in any variety. However they feature his Velvet Underground spouse and on-and-off musical foil John Cale on harmonies and accompanying instrumentation, these home made recordings predate the duo’s earliest whole-band periods and have none of the Velvets’ fearless spaciousness and avant-garde ambitions. This is an personal document of two newfound close friends discovering a audio that would form countless musicians and kinds in their wake. For lovers, and for the multiple generations who revere Reed as a imaginative, even philosophical lodestar, “Words & Music” is a thing like a formerly 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,” Light-weight in the Attic founder and co-operator Matt Sullivan suggests. “You can listen to the beat era, you can hear him and John merging. But you can hear aspects of punk rock, also. When you hear ‘Heroin’ or ‘Waiting for the Man’ broken down, it is a reminder of Lou’s songwriting, the blend of avenue poetry with rock-and-roll.”

“Words & Music” was generated in partnership with Reed’s archivists and his widow, the esteemed musician and theater artist Laurie Anderson. She and Reed met in the 1990s and grew to become a kind of residing New York landmark for the closing two many years of his lifestyle — inseparable twin geniuses representing solely different realms of the Manhattan inventive entire world. Talking by Skype, Anderson claims the May 1965 tape “sounds specifically like the Lou I knew. It is the ghost of a incredibly formidable younger guy who was operating songs out. He’s laughing, he’s poking around. It’s the exact human being. You can listen to anyone getting probabilities.”

Reed was an exemplary opportunity-taker in his daily life and art, which is why “Words & Music” simply cannot be dismissed as mere juvenilia. Yes, it functions the earliest iterations of his defining do the job, but it also captures him at a second and in a setting that even the deepest devotee has under no circumstances knowledgeable. And with Reed, times and settings are anything. Right before he was a black-clad denizen of the Warhol demimonde, a punk progenitor, a pet-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 lastly, an elder statesman with a yen for tai chi and meditation, Reed was simply a youthful person with a guitar and an armload of disparate influences. He was an English key, a Dylan fan and, previously mentioned all, a author.

When Reed biographer Anthony DeCurtis initial listened to the “Words & Music” recordings, it was Reed’s producing that struck him most forcefully. “He’d been taking part in in bands because he was 14,” DeCurtis says, and the tape exhibits him “mimicking so lots of kinds of music. But on this, the lyrics are infinitely farther together than the new music.”

From DeCurtis’s 2017 e-book “Lou Reed: A Daily life,” we know that early 1965 was an uncertain but decisive period of time in the man’s daily life. He lived with his mom and dad on Prolonged Island, but he invested considerably of his time in Queens, composing many tunes for the teen-tune factory Pickwick Documents, and in Manhattan, consorting with Cale, a Welsh experimental-classical prodigy who joined the Primitives to efficiently slum as a rock-and-roller.

The popular, reductive origin story of the Velvet Underground claims Reed brought the pop songcraft and seedy lyrical vision, although Cale released droning ambiance and exploded the musical boundaries of pop entirely. But that doesn’t make clear why an arch ultramodernist like Cale would acquire so fondly to a doo-wop supporter like Reed in the to start with location, to the place wherever folks-averse Cale could shortly be discovered busking with his songwriter buddy in Harlem. A mutual affinity for medicine absolutely played a job, but “Words & Music” helps make their link clearer: Reed’s producing was so grippingly exclusive that Cale noticed the overlap in their sensibilities.

Get “Heroin,” for example, a wellspring of what would later be identified as punk or option, the “Like a Rolling Stone” of commercially insouciant rock music. On 1967’s “The Velvet Underground & Nico,” Reed’s appropriate debut as a recording artist, the music is an incantation, a sense-journey by the languorous rapture and nightmarish rush of an opioid superior. But the harrowing lyrics, we now know, ended up fundamentally finish well before the duo achieved their benefactor and protector Andy Warhol, and more than a calendar year in advance of they recorded the epochal edition with Maureen Tucker and Sterling Morrison on percussion and guitar, respectively. The “Words & Music” rendition has a comparable if significantly less spectacular musical construction Reed and Cale speed up and gradual down. But they normally deal with it like a campfire singalong. The earth-modifying musical eyesight was nonetheless to appear.

On the other hand, a 1965 version of “Pale Blue Eyes” is musically similar to the crystalline ballad that finally appeared on the Velvet Underground’s 1969 self-titled album (their first without having Cale), but the lyrics in this article are solely distinct apart from for its chorus. The song originated at Syracuse, where Reed wrote it for his most significant early girlfriend, Shelley Albin. In 1965, it was an almost childish ditty about jealousy. By this position, Albin experienced presently left him following his borderline abusive remedy when she married immediately after higher education, he remained besotted, generally begging her to go away her spouse. Now we can see that he carried the skeleton of this heartbreaking music in his head for yrs, rewriting its verses right up until it became vexingly self-incriminating and rueful, a higher place of Reed’s gentlest, most complex tendencies.

“Words & Music” is actually a demo in the feeling that the youthful songwriter appears to have recorded it largely for copyright applications. The tape survived because he mailed it to himself and held on to the unopened bundle for the relaxation of his existence, practically a half-century. If that sounds oddly fastidious, Reed’s archivists, Jason Stern and Don Fleming, say he retained an huge amount of documentation throughout his entire career, from phase costumes to tollbooth receipts. (His sister Merrill seemingly thinks this was the influence of their accountant father.)

Practically all this product was donated by Anderson to the New York Community Library for the Performing Arts at Lincoln Middle, exactly where an immersive multimedia exhibition, “Lou Reed: Caught Amongst the Twisted Stars,” is jogging via March 2023. Concerning this free celebration, the freshly inaugurated collection from Light in the Attic, a recent Velvet Underground documentary from filmmaker Todd Haynes and even DeCurtis’s doorstop, Reed has grow to be the topic of significant mainstream research and preservation in a way that his mercurial artwork and confrontational reputation designed tough all through his lifetime.

Anderson has insisted, even so, that her husband’s posthumous legacy be as fast and available as the emotions in Reed’s songs. “I want this and the NYPL exhibit to be open up to anyone,” she says. “Not a white-glove detail. Any kid beginning a band, any individual, can now hear him exploring all over.”


For Anderson, the most vital monitor on “Words & Music” is “Men of Fantastic Fortune,” which shares a title and absolutely nothing else with a keep track of from Reed’s 1973 junkie-romance strategy record “Berlin,” occasionally cited as the most depressing album at any time created. Instead of that record’s grandiose creation and lurid lyrics, the 1965 “Men” resembles a Baby Ballad, the type of British tale-tune that motivated early American folk music and its 1960s revivalists. It’s a unhappy waltz sung by a younger “maiden” who misses her possibility at relationship due to the fact of her mother’s warnings about wayward adult men.

What could be much less in character from the man who wrote “Walk on the Wild Facet,” permit on your own “Sex With Your Parents”? But as Anderson notes, Reed would go on to write gorgeously from a female standpoint in tunes like “Stephanie Says” and “Candy Suggests.” Like every thing on “Words & Audio,” “Men of Good Fortune” foretells his foreseeable future as a lot as it resembles the past.

“He grew to become a minimal lady to write that song, in his little red outfit,” Anderson states. “He was Shakespearean: He could move into people’s minds. He did not self-pity in his music, he went outside. He saw all these men and women, he impersonated them, went into their minds. This is a very special songwriter. The worth of this history is you see he constantly was.”