If Laurie Anderson gets her way, the New York Library for the Performing Arts will have a “Lou Reed Listening Room,” where fans, musicians and scholars can crank his music to hear it as it was meant to be.
“Lou’s music was super-physical,” Reed’s widow Anderson told a crowd of journalists who’d gathered at the Lincoln Center library to hear details of the announcement that it would soon house Reed’s entire archive. And, she added, that she was “pitching” the idea of a listening room so that the “force and energy” of his music could be fully experienced.
Later the performance artist told Billboard that she envisioned the project as “phase two” of the library’s acquisition of what it described as 300 linear feet of paper records, electronic records, and photographs, as well as approximately 3,600 audio and 1,300 video recordings.
“Lou loved young musicians,” Anderson says. “And this archive is for them.”
She also referenced a quote from David Eagleman’s book Sum: Forty Tales from the Afterlives, saying, “There are three deaths. The first is when your heart stops beating. The second is when you are cremated or buried. And the third is when your name is spoken for the last time.” The archive, she said, would ensure that Reed’s name continues to be spoken.
During the announcement, Anderson and producer Hal Willner — who painstakingly worked with Reed on The RCA & Arista Album Collection boxed set — recalled how even Reed’s critically panned work was being reevaluated in the wake of his death from liver disease in October 2013.
After Reed died, Anderson said that David Bowie told her, “I want you to listen to Lulu again.” The 2011 a collaboration with Metallica that ended up being Reed’s last studio recording, polarized critics and Anderson admitted that she had “a very difficult time” with the album. But Bowie encouraged her to give it another chance, telling her “Lou was always ahead of his time. People won’t understand that record for 25 years.”
Anderson did as Bowie suggested and told the crowd at the library that she now finds the album, “such a masterpiece. It is pure rage,” she said, adding that Reed, who was known for being caustic in and out of the studio, “had the bravery and imagination to write like that.”
Given Reed’s unflinching lyrics, Anderson asked the crowd, “Can you imagine what he would have to say right now?” She did not elaborate, but it was apparent that she was referring to the Trump administration’s immigration policies –especially after she quoted from the following verse of Reed’s 1989 song, “Dirty Blvd”:
Give me your hungry, your tired your poor I’ll piss on ’em
that’s what the Statue of Bigotry says
Your poor huddled masses, let’s club ’em to death
During Willner’s turn at the podium, he quoted a writer, whose name he could not remember, who said that “Lou is to New York what [William] Faulkner is to the South and [James] Joyce is to Ireland. He told Billboard that Reed’s archives have yielded some previously unreleased recordings that will eventually see the light of day via Sony Legacy, which put out the RCA-Arista boxed set.
Willner said that he is currently working on a recording of Reed’s 1973 performance at Alice Tully Hall in New York City on his first solo tour after leaving The Velvet Underground. (The recording is not expected to be released this year.) Willner also told the crowd that an expanded version of Reed’s now-legendary run at New York’s Bottom Line nightclub in 1978 -which resulted in the live album, Take No Prisoners, was in the works.
Reed did not leave much unreleased material behind, however, at least according to Willner. “Lou believed the work ‘outtake’ meant ‘out,'” he said.