The New York Public Library honors Lou Reed with a new exhibition A new exhibition at the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts offers a rare glimpse into the archives of the late songwriter Lou Reed.

The New York Public Library honors Lou Reed with a new exhibition

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The late Lou Reed was known for songs like "Walk On The Wild Side." It's hard not to say it the way he says it. (Singing) Walk on the wild side. He was also a poet and a photographer. A new exhibition at the New York's Public Library for the Performing Arts opens his archives. WNYC's John Schaefer has more.

JOHN SCHAEFER, BYLINE: Nobody wrote songs about New York quite like Lou Reed, whether it was enjoying time out in the park...


LOU REED: (Singing) Just a perfect day.

SCHAEFER: Or going uptown to score drugs.


REED: (Singing) I'm waiting for my man, $26 in my hand.

SCHAEFER: The exhibit, called "Lou Reed: Caught Between The Twisted Stars" is the result of nine years of work by his wife, the musician and multimedia artist Laurie Anderson, in figuring out what was in the archive, where it should go and, perhaps most importantly, who should have access.

LAURIE ANDERSON: I want to have this open to any young kid who is a musician and wants to go and hear a bunch of Lou's rehearsals. And they can do that for free.

SCHAEFER: The sexy, big-ticket items in the archive are the concert films, demo tapes, photos, the stuff you'd expect. But there's also lots of paper, especially receipts. Boring, right?

DON FLEMING: It was just amazing to be able to open it up and see where a tour manager had an envelope full of receipts.

SCHAEFER: That's Don Fleming, one of the exhibit's two curators.

FLEMING: Here they are at a toll booth in Ohio on a particular day and time. And just as like - the level of, like, what you get from that is not something you can find anywhere else.


REED: (Singing) Caught between the twisted stars, the plotted lines, the faulty map that brought Columbus to New York.

SCHAEFER: What you won't find in the archives are lots of early drafts of songs for a reason that might drive other songwriters crazy. Again, Laurie Anderson.

ANDERSON: So he would just wake up and write the song down. It was infuriating. It was just complete. He wouldn't change a single thing (laughter).

SCHAEFER: Ask Don Fleming for a favorite part of the exhibition, and he has a ready answer.

FLEMING: Overall, probably the 1965 tape, the one that Lou mailed to himself, as in the first demos he ever did of iconic songs - "Heroin," "Waiting For The Man."


REED: (Singing) I'm waiting for the man, $26 in my hand.

FLEMING: And the tape had never been opened. No one had ever heard it. He mailed it to himself as a poor man's copyright. So that was, like, the big exciting probably find. And for Jason and I - we found it right at the end of the process.

SCHAEFER: Jason is fellow archivist and curator Jason Stern. He points out that the archives have way more material than could fit in the library's exhibit. But...

JASON STERN: The great thing about the New York Public Library and the collection being here is that anyone can walk right in, go to one of these computers and pull up a finding aid and search through all the collection of tapes and videos and just queue up whatever they want to listen to. They want to hear the May 1965 tape of Lou and John...

SCHAEFER: That's John Cale.

STERN: ...They can pull that up and listen to the audio.


REED: (Singing) Heroin.

SCHAEFER: The theme of the exhibition is collaboration. Lou Reed famously worked with John Cale and the rest of the Velvet Underground, Andy Warhol, David Bowie. But Laurie Anderson says his biggest collaborator was Hal Willner, the late music supervisor and record producer.

ANDERSON: Lou and Willner did a radio show called "New York Shuffle," and that's an incredible part of the collection, as is so many early versions of songs.


REED: (Singing) Just a summer's day.

ANDERSON: The early version of "Perfect Day" was just another summer day, you know? So you see an artist putting together his sound, his world, his words.


REED: (Singing) Drink sangria in the park.

SCHAEFER: Yeah, well, it didn't always work on the first try. Laurie Anderson also points out that while Lou Reed's songs were set in the Big Apple, the characters were never anonymous. They had names. They had stories.

ANDERSON: Little Joe, out, you know - and Candy out from the island.


REED: (Singing) Little Joe never once gave it away.

ANDERSON: He was a Shakespearean panoply of characters, and they were all New Yorkers. And there they are, living in the library.


REED: (Singing) New York City is the place where they said, hey, babe...

SCHAEFER: So if you ever want to see the photo shoot for a Lou Reed album cover or hear one of his rehearsals or check out his tai chi weapons, it's like the old song says, New York City is the place where. For NPR News, I'm John Schaefer.


DARI LALOU, KAREN FRIEDMAN AND CASEY SYNGE: (Singing) Doo do doo do doo do do doo.

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