ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:
Today would have been Lou Reed's 75th birthday. Of course he's the guy who co-founded The Velvet Underground and wrote classic rock standards like "Walk On The Wild Side." Reed was born in Brooklyn. And his widow, performance artist Laurie Anderson, marked today's anniversary by announcing that the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts will house Reed's complete archives. Rick Karr reports.
RICK KARR, BYLINE: The Lou Reed archive includes thousands of hours of video and audio recordings as well as his record collection.
(SOUNDBITE OF LOU REED SONG, "WALK ON THE WILD SIDE")
KARR: He owned multiple versions of some of his most famous albums.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "WALK ON THE WILD SIDE")
LOU REED: (Singing) Holly came from Miami, F-L-A, hitchhiked her way across the USA.
KARR: There's also a recording of Reed in 1971 reading his poem "We Are The People" at St. Mark's Church in-the-Bowery.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
REED: (Reading) We are the people without right. We are the people who have known only lies and desperation. We are the people without a country, a voice or a mirror.
KARR: The archive also includes more than 300 boxes of papers, photos and other items spanning Reed's six-decade career. New York Public Library curator Jonathan Hiam reaches into one and pulls out a manila envelope stuffed with documents from one of Reed's concert tours in the early 1970s.
JONATHAN HIAM: Pay schedule - Doug Yule on the Lou Reed tour. Receipt from Bloomingdale's for - what is that, hair spray - something spray.
KARR: There's a bill from the legendary New York bar Max's Kansas City. Reed's tab stood at $194.08. There's a birthday card of more recent vintage inscribed, dear honey bun, love and hugs, Mo, as in Moe Tucker, The Velvet Underground's drummer. But Hiam says it's the business and legal records that have him excited. The contracts, licensing agreements, tour receipts and other documents paint a detailed picture of how the music industry evolved.
HIAM: These kinds of documents are often in the hands of a private enterprise still, and there's usually no financial incentive to make them available to anybody. So if you're doing research, this is really, really a boon.
KARR: Later this year, library staff will begin the process of digitizing the thousands of hours of video and audio recordings. Music producer and archivist Don Fleming has been supervising the restoration. He says the process has turned up a few gems.
DON FLEMING: One of the things they found was a tape from the early '60s which seems to be Lou with one of his high school bands rehearsing for the variety show. And just following that was Lou playing Bob Dylan songs.
KARR: Those recordings aren't available yet for legal reasons, but once the issues have been worked out, the recordings and everything else in the archive will be available to anyone who visits the library. Reed's widow, Laurie Anderson, says that's why she chose to put the archive there instead of a museum or academic institution.
LAURIE ANDERSON: I really wanted it to not be deep in some vault where only people with white gloves can come and - he was really democratic.
KARR: Anderson says she hopes access to the archive will paint a more nuanced picture of Lou Reed than the tough guy in leather jacket and shades everyone knows.
ANDERSON: You realize everyone loses their nerve - everyone. Everyone feels vulnerable and small. Take courage from that. That's why I wanted this archive out - just to see how hard it was to do that and how determined he was.
KARR: The New York Public Library will be hosting Reed-related events over the next couple weeks. The complete archive including those early demo recordings should be available to the public later this year. For NPR News, I'm Rick Karr in New York.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "PERFECT DAY")
REED: (Singing) Oh, it's such a perfect day. I'm glad I spent it with you - oh, such a perfect day. You just keep me hanging on.
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