The music matched the words. If the words were scary, the music would get scary. If the words were sad, the music would get very sad. You think, yeah, why would anyone want to buy despondency? But in those days, I thought there was a certain kind of aloneness going on and I felt I wasn’t the only one feeling that.
—Lou Reed

This week I heard a story on the radio about Wikipedia, which — it was claimed — is at least as accurate as the Encyclopedia Britannica, on average.

To which I say, well, sure: You shouldn’t necessarily trust Wikipedia more or less than any other source. It’s important to remember that everything you read — every news story, website, textbook, reference, or history — is written by human beings and therefore subject to distortion, bias, misapprehension, inadvertent inaccuracy, and intentional fabrication.

Regarding “All Tomorrow’s Parties,” Wikipedia sez:

Inspiration for the song came from Reed’s observation of Andy Warhol’s clique — according to Reed, the song is “a very apt description of certain people at the Factory at the time.… I watched Andy. I watched Andy watching everybody. I would hear people say the most astonishing things, the craziest things, the funniest things, the saddest things.” In a 2006 interview, Reed’s VU bandmate John Cale stated: “The song was about a girl called Darryl, a beautiful petite blonde with three kids, two of whom were taken away from her.” The song was Andy Warhol’s favorite by The Velvet Underground.

At least some of this is provably false. “ATP” appears on the Ludlow Street demo recorded in July 1965, months before the band even met Andy Warhol, no matter what Lou says. (As previously noted, he is often the least reliable source of information about his own life.)

“Darryl,” though, was a real person, whom Richie Unterberger identifies as one Daryl Delafield. Very little information about her is available — she does not merit an index entry in any of the Lou Reed biographies I have. But she does turn up in Cale’s book What’s Welsh for Zen:

She was a nymphomaniac. She was blonde, bushy-tailed and very bright. We both went nuts over her. There were all sorts of things we had in common, like sharing needles, scoring heroin and doing heroin. Soon Lou and I were both fucking her. Lou thought she was really gorgeous, intelligent and with her nerve endings hanging out. He wanted Daryl in the band.

It’s not clear if he got his wish. Cale doesn’t mention her singing or playing an instrument. He does tell a long shaggy-dog story that ends with a Polish hit man wreaking havoc in Daryl’s apartment with a shotgun, after which the city’s welfare department takes her kids away. This “was part of the background of Lou’s album Berlin,” he asserts.

If indeed she was a source of inspiration for both “All Tomorrow’s Parties” and Berlin, Daryl played an outsize role for someone so little-known. Which is is certainly plausible; history is bunk, isn’t it?

In any case, the “ATP” that we hear on the Ludlow tape is a very different beast from what would end up on the first VU album. Like many of the early recordings, it shows off a folky side that would eventually be subsumed in distortion and decadence, if not entirely eliminated.

Again, if you listen between takes, you get a glimpse into the band’s dynamics at the time. Lou barks out orders and John meekly complies; Sterling does not appear to say a word ever. Angus MacLise, then the band’s drummer, is notable by his absence. Said Cale:

Angus was really living on the Angus calendar. If you told Angus that there was a rehearsal at two o’clock on Friday, he wouldn’t understand what you were talking about. He would just come and go, wherever and whenever he pleased.

Is it possible that rhythms MacLise established are guiding the band, even though he was not physically present for the recording? Of course it is, but there’s no way to say for sure.

Which is where we came in. There’s no way to say anything for sure. But it’s fun to try.