“The Great Labor of Love”: Years in the Making of the Lou Reed Exhibition | Lou Reed

WWhat’s it like sifting through a cultural icon’s profile? It’s a question, and Don Fleming knows the answer at a deep level. “All these boxes are in warehouses, and no one really knows what’s inside,” Fleming said of his wide-eyed wonder. “So we’ll go from box to box, all opening for the first time in years. Some are less fun. Others are exciting.”

And so began seven years of work to build the expansive exhibit that eventually became Lou Reed: Caught Between the Stars. Opening last week at the New York Public Library of the Performing Arts, this is the first major exhibition to focus on the life and work of this indelible artist, writer, singer, guitarist, poet and New York City native. “This is someone who is always pushing the boundaries,” explained Fleming, a musician and producer who is co-curator of the effort. “From start to finish, he just never let up.”

Lou Reed’s legend remains alive today as it was in his heyday and since his death in 2013 at the age of 71. , a single by David Bowie and Mick Ronson that peaked at No. 16 on the Billboard Hot 100), Reed’s creative output throughout his life was as insatiable as insatiable. Proof of these qualities comes from the inner life in the exhibition, which unveils a mysterious icon who has always had the urge to create.​​​ Rare personal artifacts, from greeting cards to rare presentations and hard-to-find editions, represent everything from Reed’s greatest commercial success to his more obscure work as a poet.

“We have demos that people can listen to and copyright from the tapes he mailed to himself on May 11, 1965,” explains co-curator Jason Stern, who was Reed’s technical assistant, explaining that it’s just the exhibition An example of a treasure. “They were the earliest versions of these songs that went on to become very hits (like 1967’s seven-minute Velvet Underground classic Heroin). Each recording begins with “Words and Music by Lou Reed.” Meanwhile, another The demo was the first recording of his 1972 track Perfect Day. His then-wife, Betty Kronstad, is heard on the vocals, while Reed accompanies her on the piano.

Velvet Underground album Session Tape recorded July 5, 1968
The Velvet Underground album tape, recorded on July 5, 1968. Photo: Lou Reed Papers, Department of Music and Recording, New York Public Library of the Performing Arts.

“We’re really trying to articulate the fact that Lou is a multi-faceted, multi-layered person,” Stern said. “There are a lot of people who know some level of his work, whether it’s just Velvet Underground or some popular singles, but we wanted to focus on the masses.” That means including a section devoted to Reed’s poetry, which is An aspect of his solo work in the early 70s. That was at a time when there was some kind of uncertainty between Reed’s time facing the Velvet Underground and what would later become an apparent solo performance.

“It was a period in his life that a lot of biographies just glossed over,” Stern explained. “He moved to Long Island and wrote a manuscript of poetry, which was actually rejected by the publisher. But he wrote the song the same way he wrote poetry, and he actually wrote it in a literary way.” , Fleming said he first thought of Reed as a writer. “His lyrics and poetry are the same thing.” (After all, Reed studied poetry at Syracuse University.)

His work also includes a stark, subversive character, with Reed’s distinctive voice sometimes focusing on darker themes in vulgar language. For those who know Reed only from the sunny lyrics of songs like Perfect Day, this quality may come as a surprise. It’s a quality Reed embodies, Fleming explained, rooted in Reed hearing Bob Dylan say that everything he writes is out of touch with reality. “So the same year the Beatles put out ‘I Want to Hold Your Hand,’ he wrote heroin,” Fleming explained of the song, a reflection on Reed’s own tumultuous relationship with drugs. Essentially, it’s Reed’s bold juxtaposition of his own art with early ’60s pop culture. “His lyrics can be dark and profound.”

So dark, in fact, that the team behind the exhibit worried that an institution like the New York Public Library might be reluctant to display some of Reed’s saltiest materials in its hallowed halls. In addition to drugs, some of his songs touch on issues ranging from domestic violence to prostitution. “To their credit, they said, ‘We don’t censor anything. Everything you want on the show is on the show,'” Fleming recalled their reaction. “It gives us leeway to put things in without worrying too much.”

Lou Reed in 1972
Lou Reed in 1972. Photo: Miklok

That being said, Fleming does acknowledge that Reed’s status as a border pusher has two aspects. “Culturally, it’s an interesting time because some of the boundaries he’s pushing are not new to people,” he muses, trying to explain the star’s complex nature. “He helped push the boundaries on some levels, but on others, I don’t think he’s on the right side of the culture. But I think it’s important to let the work speak for itself. Some people might be on the right side of things out there. Upset, but we don’t want to avoid them. It’s not right to have to pack with Lou.”

At the same time, the exhibition shows the gentle side of his character. “[His tenderness] For the most part, it’s not part of his public persona,” Stern noted. These include a greeting card in which he calls his wife “Honeybun,” and a rare photo depicting Reed and Velvet Underground drummer Moe Tucker during some downtime “We saw them throwing footballs all over the place and I remember being overwhelmed by how weird it was. Reed’s close creative relationship with the late producer and Saturday Night Live music director Hal Willner is also reflected in the meticulous reproduction of Willner’s studio. (Among other projects, He and Reed made up 86 episodes of a two-hour radio show called New York Shuffle before Reed died.)

For the curators behind the exhibition, whether it’s Stern, Fleming or Reid’s widow Laurie Anderson (who was also closely involved), it’s been a nearly decade-long project of passion, culminating in a celebration of The opening reception of their own work and the work of their esteemed artist culminated in an opening reception.

“I’m overwhelmed,” Stern said of the reception so far. “I still remember a very scared 25-year-old who was interviewed by Lou to be his technical assistant. I hadn’t slept the night before, but he asked me on the spot when I could start.”

For the next two years, until his death, Stern was with him every day. “I’ve never forgotten how much he did for me. So for me, it’s [exhibit] It has been a great labor of love. “

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