First off, the answer is no — there is no recording of Lou Reed singing Bob Dylan’s “Baby, Let Me Follow You Down” in 1963. But it happened, according to Richard Mishkin, who played piano and bass in Lou’s college band LA and the Eldorados:
Lou idolized Dylan when Dylan first came on the scene with his first album. We knew every inch of his music inside and out. All of a sudden there was this music and poetry together, and it wasn’t folk music. Lou was blown away by it. It was an exciting thing. And Lewis immediately got a harmonica and was playing that. And I remember sitting in the apartment with [fellow Eldorado] Stevie Windheim and Lewis figuring out the chords to “Baby, Let Me Follow You Down.”
So you’ll just have to imagine it’s Lou’s voice here instead of Bob’s:
Dylan was everything Reed wanted to be: a suburban Jew who had recreated himself as a worldly troubadour bringing a literary sensibility to popular music. But when he got famous Lou would downplay the influence; not unlike David Bowie, he was leery of being too much in Dylan’s shadow. He quickly abandoned the harmonica for that very reason. But there it is in the demo version of “I Found a Reason” recorded by the Velvet Underground several years and a lifetime later:
And here we run headlong into the chronology issue. “I Found a Reason” was written during the summer between Lou’s sophomore and junior years at Syracuse; upon returning to school he played it for Shelley, saying it was about her. “Coney Island Baby,” “The Gift,” “I’ll Be Your Mirror,” “Heroin,” and “I’m Waiting for the Man” also date from his latter years in college. But they weren’t recorded until much later, so it seems wrong to discuss them here, though “The Gift” in particular — written in a frenzy of paranoia over Shelley’s perceived infidelity during an enforced separation — makes more sense in its original context.
Had it been 30 years later, Lou might have had a Tascam 4-track in his room, and we might have a raft of early recordings to sift through. But there would be years of marinating before these songs were put down on tape, and
***WAIT WAIT WAIT HOLD THE PRESSES***
I wrote that last bit yesterday. In this morning’s New York Times there was an article entitled “‘You Don’t Become Lou Reed Overnight.’ A New Exhibition Proves It.” It begins like this:
At a glance, it is a modest artifact: a five-inch reel of audio tape, housed in a plain cardboard box. Its wrapping bears a postmark of May 11, 1965, and the sender and addressee are the same: Lewis Reed.
But if there is a “Rosebud” in Lou Reed’s archive — a telltale totem from youth — this is it. The box, still unopened, was found in Reed’s office after his death in 2013. It was only after the New York Public Library acquired his materials four years later from Reed’s wife, the artist Laurie Anderson, that archivists finally opened it and played the tape. What they found were some of the earliest known recordings of songs that Reed wrote for the Velvet Underground, his groundbreaking 1960s band, in stripped-down, almost folky acoustic versions that may leave fans and scholars stunned.
The tape is at the center of “Lou Reed: Caught Between the Twisted Stars,” the first exhibition drawn from Reed’s archive, which will open on Thursday at the Library for the Performing Arts, at Lincoln Center.
It goes on to say that the recording will be released to the public by Light in the Attic Records, but not until August. So do I go on hiatus until then? Wait, the article says that the tape showcases Lou “playing acoustic guitar and harmonizing with John Cale like coffeehouse folk performers,” and he didn’t meet Cale until somewhat late in his career at Pickwick Records. Which is where we’ll pick up next time. Whew.