Laurie Anderson on Los Reed demo tape: ‘He wasn’t really interested in his past’ | culture

IIn the last years of his life, if red She maintained an office in Manhattan’s West Village and storage space in the Chelsea neighborhood of New York City. His former technical assistant, Jason Stern, says the latter was “almost stacked from floor to ceiling” with unmarked cardboard boxes. “I had no idea what was inside of them. I never asked Lu.”

When Reed passed away in 2013The question of what to do with all this loomed before his wife, artist, musician and film director Laurie Anderson. No, she sighs, Red didn’t leave any instructions regarding his archive. “Wouldn’t that be cool! No, nothing. Zero. We haven’t really talked about it.” She even opposes the idea of ​​calling it an archive. “I wouldn’t say that because he kept things, he was aware of their value. He didn’t think about his things that way. He wasn’t coordinating at all. He wasn’t really concerned about his past. He just left them there. These things weren’t important to him.”

Clearly, something had to be done with the chests he left behind: whether or not the famous showrunner Reed cared, they stand for the records of one of the most important figures in rock history. Anderson engaged Stern and Don Fleming (producer of Sonic Youth, Hall and Alice Cooper among others, lead New York cult bands BALL and Gumball and finally co-preserved the folklore archive Alan Lomax) to sort it out. Inevitably, they found a treasure trove: 600 hours of live and unreleased studio recordings, along with tapes suggesting Reed had followed suit. Example of his old mentor Andy Warhol They recorded everything that happened to him throughout the day. “The way that Andy and [assistant] Brigid Polk glued the whole thing to a portable cassette deck, and Lu would do the same thing,” Fleming says. “A lot of the tapes we found are exactly that: It’s just if you take a cab. don’t take. “

But the most remarkable discovery was not in the volume. While cleaning the shelves behind Reed’s desk, Stern and Fleming stumbled upon a package they initially thought was a CD set. Upon closer examination, it turned out to be a reel-to-reel tape, sealed in a paper envelope dated May 1965 and addressed to Reed himself, at his parents’ home in Freeport, Long Island.

“Dylan is the answer to most of the things out there”…Anderson. Photograph: Maria Spahn/The Guardian

When they opened it, they discovered a demo tape. Read sent it to himself as a cheap way to confirm the authorship of its contents: In fine minor detail, the package was documented by a person named Harry Lichteger, whom research revealed was an eccentric local pharmacist, convicted of selling barbiturates without a prescription. It contained recordings made by Red and John Cal When Reed was still working as a songwriter for Pickwick Records. Among them were the earliest known releases of Velvet Underground Heroin, I’m Waiting for the Man with the Pale Blue Eyes, Wrap Your Troubles in Dreams – the song played live by Velvet Underground and eventually featured on Nico’s debut single album Chelsea Girl – and a selection of songs that weren’t Heard it before. It begins with Men of Good Fortune – not the song of the same name that Red recorded in Berlin in 1973, but a fake traditional folk song, sung from a female point of view.

“It kind of shocked me a lot,” says Anderson, “because of the voice he chose to use, a little girl’s voice. We had a number of running voices – he could do hundreds of voices and he gave names to all these imaginary people – and that little girl was one of them. So, he was Hearing her narration is amazing to me: Wow, he was doing that when he was a kid too?”

The contents of the tape are about to be released as an album, Words and Music, May 1965. There are other reasons to be amazed by its contents, not the least of which is the new light it sheds on one of the most important songwriters in the United States. Fans know that Reed was obsessed with harsh rhythm and blues — you can hear the influence of the former on one of the demo’s other unreleased tracks, Buzz Buzz Buzz, and the latter on another, Stockpile. Less expected is Reed’s voice as the folklore harmonica-influenced Bob Dylan, the heroin essay and I’m waiting for the guy like cute finger-picked acoustic guitar chops, and a thrilling waltz performance called Petrcap sung that feels as if it’s designed to make crowds swing on open mic nights in Greenwich Village (A few previous home recordings included in the Words and Music album feature Reed covering Don’t Think Twice, It’s Alright and permanent hootenanny Michael, Row the Boat to the Beach.)

Reel to reel tape, enclosed in a paper envelope.
An amazing find…reel to reel tape, enclosed in a paper envelope. Photo: Canal Street Communications, Inc

In fact, he’s so clearly influenced by two alternatives that you wonder how Reed bit his tongue a year later, when Velvet Underground was included at the Warhol Factory Studio, a place where Dylan was colloquially referred to as “crawling” and mocked in Warhol films. More milk, Yvette And the Bob Dylan’s story. “Dylan is the answer to most of the things out there,” Anderson says. “The harmonica, the whining, the tone. Sympathy and the underdog and the unheard voices, not the poet-heroic voice. We talked about Dylan now and then, and it was a complicated relationship. But Dylan made a great impression on him.”

Also remarkable is how different the tone of the Velvet Underground songs here is from the versions the band recorded later. Heroin somehow manages to be nicer and more nihilistic; The word “no” is missing from the opening line: “I just know where I’m going.” Pale Blue Eyes is best known for being the most beautiful songs Reed wrote about his college sweetheart, Shelley Albin, who left him and married “Big Wheel” on the Syracuse campus: the quiet tenderness of the transcription on her third album Velvet Underground is rooted in the fact that Reed and Albin then resumed their relationship behind her husband’s back. But the 1965 demo is markedly different, closer to the icy cruelty of songs in Berlin: “I’ll see you dead as soon as he sings.” The strangest thing is, I’m just waiting for the guy to be played for laughs. A Harlem pimp who asks: “White boy, what are you doing in Uptown?” A sarcastic reply from Red but Cale which affected an overly posh English accent: “Excuse me, sir, nothing could be further from my mind,” he stammered, like Hugh Grant in a tight situation.

“I wasn’t surprised at all, it just made perfect sense to me,” Anderson says of the song’s playful tone. “I got to know Lou, and that was him – he was funny, and he was the funniest guy I’ve ever met.”

More realistically, Fleming points out that “in the context of what they were doing at the time, it makes a lot of sense.” Together, Red and Kale had a meager living off the business (“we made more money on the sidewalks than anywhere else,” Cal later recalled) and had a comedy routine involving a confused Englishman, even a confused Englishman over the heroin recording business, a touch of street theater. around him are useful to arouse the interest of passersby.

Reed (second from left) and John Cale (far right) are photographed with their initial bandmates, the band formed by Pickwick Records, circa 1964.
Reed (second from left) and John Cale (far right) are photographed with their initial bandmates, the band formed by Pickwick Records, in 1964. Photo: Canal Street Communications, Inc

It was a world on the verge of transformation. Within months of recording the demo, Reed and Cal formed the Velvet Underground, secured a residency at Greenwich Village’s Bizarre Café, and happily met Warhol two nights before the café’s launch, thanks to what guitarist Sterling Morrison called it. “Anger and confusion” because of their music. Within a year, they were in the studio recording The Velvet Underground and NicoAnd during the process, rock music changed forever.

Along the way, Cal lured Reed away from the popular music found in the demo tape: “I couldn’t care less about folk music, I hated Joan Baez and Dylan,” and later protested that, in fairness, Cal sounds like if he’s had a long time in harmonious singing. There’s only one song that faintly suggests what’s coming next: sung by Cal, Wrap Your Troubles in Dreams lasts eight minutes and isn’t played by Red’s guitar, but it’s a kind of drone, whose body seems to be repeatedly hit by something, perhaps a coin. “The last song on the tape, and all of a sudden the bridge to Velvet Underground looks a lot more solid, and it starts to make a lot more sense as to where this is going,” says Stern.

In his later years at least, Reed kept the unopened package close at hand: quantum notes for the lyrics and music suggest that its proximity may have served as a “mantra of some sort, a reminder of his musical journey,” though Anderson isn’t sure about that. He must have known what it was, but he never delivered it when the chest sets or deluxe versions of the Velvet Underground work were assembled.

‘I was in the office when the courtesy copy of the White Light/White Heat Super Deluxe Edition arrived,’ says Stern, ‘and wasn’t particularly happy that this thing appeared in the mail. What are these bonus discs? What are these? Why do they do that?’ Then he turned the volume up really loud, and listened to their bonus disc playing live at a New York gym in 1967 and they moved in. But I had to remove Velvet Underground from his iTunes, so it wouldn’t casually happen when he was listening to things Others He would hear his own voice and say, “It’s not that I listen to music for pleasure.”

Which begs the question of what Reed can make of the people listening to his fledgling songs today. Abs Anderson. “He would have loved this tape if he had listened to it – I can’t stand it when people say what a dead person wants. Really? How do you know that?” She says, for a moment she seemed no different from her late husband in wilting. “I guess he would have taken care of this young man who was very ambitious, the same person as the old man, you know?”

Words and Music, May 1965 was released on Light in the Attic on September 16 and Physically on October 21.

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