Holy Grail? Huge Cache of Unheard Material Found in Lou Reed’s Archive

by Steve Spohn
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LouReed1977It’s safe to say that the late, great Lou Reed saved everything.

You’ll believe it once you’ve seen the iconic musician’s massive archive that was just donated to the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts in Manhattan.

Lou’s widow, and fellow performer, Laurie Anderson announced Thursday (on what would have been the artist’s 75th birthday) the donation of the complete Lou Reed Archive to the public library. Laurie said: “Basically, getting the collection, for me, was sort of like a fifteen-story building falling all on me, in a way. It was like, What am I going to do with this?”

According to The New Yorker:

The collection is vast and wonderful – around three hundred linear feet of paper records, electronic records, and photographs; some thirty-six hundred audio recordings; and some thirteen hundred video recordings. … The materials span from Reed’s high-school band to the Velvet Underground to his final performances, in 2013. 

Laurie Anderson

Laurie Anderson

Some of the items in the archive include: Random tour receipts from 1975; Velvet Underground bootlegs; love notes from Laurie Anderson; and most exciting of all, roughly 600 hours of unheard audio.

According to the collection’s archivist, Don Fleming:

I was surprised at how much stuff he kept. Like, there’s six hundred hours of audio that no one’s heard yet. There’s a lot of Velvet Underground material in the collection that he got after the Velvet Underground broke up. Like bootlegs. He wanted to have copies of those.

When analyzing musicians’ archives, discovering unheard or unreleased material is like finding the Holy Grail. This could perhaps be one such discovery.

Among the treasures Laurie found is an unopened reel-to-reel tape Lou mailed to himself in 1965 (as a form of copyright). That tape, which remains sealed, could be the first recordings Reed and John Cale ever made together. The notarized package was mailed two years before the release of The Velvet Underground & Nico. In other words, the reel-to-reel could contain the first-ever Velvet Underground recordings.

This archive is massive; one could take years to peruse it in full. Here is the New Yorker article detailing this incredible donation.

Here’s a rare video of Lou doing his thing.

Steve Spohn is a former Saturday Night Live and Nickelodeon Television executive. Growing up near Princeton, NJ, led to a musical addiction, with WMMR in Philly and WNEW in NYC providing the daily dose. When not attending or planning to attend Bruce Springsteen concerts, he's plugging away as a screenwriter in Beverly Hills. Reach Steve at SSpohn@SongMango.com.