The New York Public Library Keeps Lou Reed’s Memory Alive

The New York Public Library Keeps Lou Reed's Memory Alive
PHOTOGRAPH: Danny Norton | Lou Reed at the Schinitzer Concert Hall in Portland, Oregon.

The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts is acquiring singer-songwriter Lou Reed’s entire archive. Reed’s widow, Laurie Anderson, made the announcement on what would have been his seventy-fifth birthday.

The collection, which Anderson found “overwhelming” when she first saw it, is vast. It is comprised of around 3,600 audio recordings, some 1,300 video recordings, about 300 linear feet of paper records, plus electronic records, and photographs. The materials document every stage of the famed musician’s high school band, to his Velvet Underground heyday, to his final gigs before his death in 2013.

Activities have been scheduled at the library, with recordings to play every hour at the library café. Highlights of the collection will be displayed for two weeks. On March 13, The Raven and the legendary musician’s poetry will be heard. On March 15, a performance of feedback from his amplifiers and guitars – a sound referred to as “Drones” is a tribute to such a great artist.

Laurie described the Walk on the Wild Side singer as someone “who did not stretch his imagination past his life. He always believed he would live. It is quite fortunate that he maintained the archive.

Wonderfully Unique

People who are familiar with the late, great man’s oeuvre and personal history would find something wonderfully unique in the collection. The paper records alone contain one surprise after another: a letter from Martin Scorsese urging Reed to meet with Johnny Depp; a handwritten note from Vaclav Havel stating, among other things, “Dear Lou, welcome to Prague!…strangely enough, I am still president of this interesting country.” There is also a manila folder marked “florida arrest” containing documents related to an obscenity charge in 1973.

It is small wonder an archivist was needed for the collection. Fulfilling the daunting task is Don Fleming, 60, a producer/musician/archivist. Fleming has worked on the massive collection for three years, together with the late musician’s own archivists, Jason Stern and Jim Cass.

Whether you are an avid fan of the Velvet Underground frontman or someone just being introduced to his legacy, the archive is an awesome presentation. The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts, at Lincoln Center Plaza, and Laurie Anderson have made it available to the public.

Lou Reed Remembered, Who He Was to Some People

Perhaps the greatest homage to the musical icon was written after his death by no less than award-winning author Neil Gaiman. Gaiman revealed that he named his daughter Holly after the drag queen in Walk on the Wild Side.

The powerful influence of the singer-musician was summed up by the writer in this paragraph: “Brian Eno said that only 30,000 people bought the first Velvet Underground album when it came out, but they all formed bands. That may have been true. But some of us listened to Loaded over and over and we wrote stories.”


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