Lou Reed's Archives Acquired By New York Public Library For The Performing Arts

Lou Reed photographed at the Cafe Figaro in New York City in 1982.
Waring Abbott/Getty Images

Lou Reed photographed at the Cafe Figaro in New York City in 1982.

The audio and video collection includes over 600 hours of original demos; studio recordings; live recordings; and interviews from 1965 to 2013.

Lou Reed's archives will remain in the city that he chronicled so vividly and grittily -- the city that he called home: New York.

On Thursday (March 2), what would have been the rocker's 75th birthday, his widow, the avant garde musician and artist Laurie Anderson, and the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts announced that the library is acquiring Reed's complete archives.

"What better place to have this than in the heart of the city he loved the best?" said Anderson, who described assembling Reed's archive as "one of the most intense experiences of my life." 

Reed, who died from liver disease on Oct. 27, 2013, at the age of 71, left behind an archive that measures approximately 300 linear feet of paper records, electronic records, and photographs, as well as approximately 3,600 audio and 1,300 video recordings. The collection documents his life as a musician, composer, poet, writer, photographer, and tai-chi student. Musically, it spans a career that began with his 1958 Freeport High School band, The Shades; his job as a staff songwriter for the budget music label, Pickwick Records, and his rise to prominence through The Velvet Underground and subsequent solo career, to his final performances in 2013.

Independent archivist Don Fleming (who also works on the Alan Lomax, Hunter S. Thompson, Ken Kesey collections at various institutions) oversaw the acquisition and worked with Reed’s two archivists, Jason Stern and Jim Cass, to create a detailed catalog of the extensive materials, most of which were in storage for decades.

The collection documents collaborations, friendships, and relationships with Anderson, poet Delmore Schwartz, artist Andy Warhol, his fellow Velvet Underground bandmates John Cale, Maureen Tucker and Sterling Morrison as well as his ex-wife and manager Sylvia Ramos, musicians Doc Pomus, Robert Quine and John Zorn, producer Hal Willner, political dissident and former Czech president Václav Havel, avant garde theater director and playwright Robert Wilson and artist Julian Schnabel.

The audio and video collection includes over 600 hours of original demos; studio recordings; live recordings; and interviews from 1965 to 2013. All of Reed’s major tours and many of his guest performances are represented in the collection, including 25 hours of original recordings documenting his 1978 run at the Bottom Line in NYC from which the Take No Prisoners live album emerged.

The archive also contains a 5 -inch tape reel that Reed mailed to himself in May 1965. It was common at the time for songwriters to create a “poor man’s copyright” by sending a recording of a new song to themselves and then not opening the package, thereby establishing a copyright date with the postmark. The package remains unopened, and is believed to be from the first Velvet Underground demo sessions that occurred on May 11, 1965 at Pickwick’s studios in Queens. It’s still being decided when, and if, to break the seal on the package.

Public celebrations of Reed's birthday and collections begin March 2 at both the Library for the Performing Arts and Stephen A. Schwarzman Building. At the top of every hour throughout the day, the Library will play an excerpt of a different Reed recording in its cafe. Displays of ephemera also open today at the Library and will stay on view through March 20. These displays present a selection of personal artifacts, notebooks, correspondence, and other materials to the public for the first time ever.

The Lou Reed Archive will be processed over the next year at the New York Public Library's Library Services Center in Long Island City, and then made available for research at the Performing Arts' Music Division and Rodgers and Hammerstein Archives of Recorded Sound. Anderson and her team will continue to work with the NYPL to develop future exhibitions, programs, digital initiatives, and other projects from Reed's various materials.