Lou Reed Archives Acquired by NY Public Library

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Lou Reed – Gie Knaeps/Photoshot via Legacy Recordings

On what would have been Lou Reed‘s 75th birthday, the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts and Reed’s widow Laurie Anderson announced today, March 2, that the library is acquiring the musician’s complete archives. The library will also host free displays and public programs over the next two weeks to celebrate and showcase Reed’s life and work, and his collection’s new home at NYPL.

The Lou Reed Archive measures approximately 300 linear feet of paper records, electronic records and photographs, and approximately 3,600 audio 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 archive spans Reed’s creative life—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. The collection comprises studio notes, galleys and proofs, master and unreleased recordings, business papers, personal correspondence, poster art, fan gifts, rare printed material and Reed’s substantial photography collection.

According to a press release, “Laurie Anderson initiated and guided the formation of the Lou Reed Archive. Independent archivist Don Fleming (who also works on the Alan Lomax, Hunter S. Thompson, Ken Kesey collections at various institutions) oversaw the acquisition and worked with Reed’s two archivists, Jason Stern and Jim Cass, to create a detailed catalog of the extensive materials, most having been in storage for decades. Keeping the archive together and in New York were primary goals of finding the best institution to care for Reed’s collected works. Anderson and the archive team reached out to the New York Public Library and believe that it will be the ideal home for Reed’s archive.”

Related: When Lou Reed played the White House

The public celebrations of Reed’s birthday and collections begin today at both the Library for the Performing Arts and Stephen A. Schwarzman Building. At the top of every hour throughout the day, the Library for the Performing Arts will play an excerpt of a different Reed recording in its cafe. Displays of ephemera also open today at the Library for the Performing Arts and the Schwarzman Building, on view through March 20. These displays present a selection of personal artifacts, notebooks, correspondence and other materials to the public for the first time ever.

The celebration continues at 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. Visit here for more details.

The Lou Reed Archive will be processed over the next year at NYPL’s Library Services Center in Long Island City, and then made available for research at the Library for the Performing Arts’ Music Division and Rodgers and Hammerstein Archives of Recorded Sound. Anderson and her team will continue to work with the NYPL to develop future exhibitions, programs, digital initiatives and other projects from Reed’s various materials.

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.

Watch the video for Reed’s “NYC Man”

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