The most surprising thing about the Lou Reed: Words & Music, May 1965 compilation — which again, for the record, also includes tapes from 1958 and 1963–64 — is how folky it is. Even the demos recorded with John Cale have a lot more granola in them than we associate with Lou. The voice is familiar, many of the songs are ones we know, but the sensibility is very different.
I guess it just goes to show you how much a young artist can change in a short time. You might roughly equate this period of Lou’s career to David Bowie’s 1968, when he played the Beckenham Arts Lab and formed a folk trio called Feathers (which later became a duo when David’s girlfriend dumped him). It is necessary, sometimes, to try on many faces before you find one that feels right. But then, when it happens, it happens fast.
Also like Bowie, once Lou evolved out of his folk period, he tried to pretend like it never happened. He threw away his harmonica (or maybe just stashed it in the back of a closet at his parents’ house), put on those wraparound shades, and became the iceman we know. But even this short fragment speaks volumes about influence Dylan had on him:
In that minute-twelve I looked up the birthdates, and it turns out Dylan (5/24/41) is not even a year older than Reed (3/2/42). He just did a lot more a lot sooner — maybe because he dropped out of college and went pro instead.
I think it’s pretty safe to say that without Dylan there is no Reed. Not only did Dylan show that it’s possible to be successful without having a “good” voice as long as it is your own, he modeled a different way of relating to the world. Though he was beloved for his protest songs, he never really bought into peace and love and flowers; his music was defined by anger more than anything else. If his venom wasn’t directed as some injustice, it was directed at people in his personal life.
“Don’t Think Twice” is a case in point, a sneering kiss-off of a disappointing lover:
I ain’t a-saying you treated me unkind
You could’ve done better but I don’t mind
You just kinda wasted my precious time
Personally I am hyper-conscious of the wasting of precious time, which is why I try to keep these things short. A lengthy tome could be written on the Dylan/Reed relationship, but someone else will have to do it. One last note, though: the liner notes to the Words & Music CD say that the same tape “Don’t Think Twice” was found on also contained a version of “Blowin’ in the Wind,” but for some reason it is not included. They don’t say why. Maybe it’s so dreadful, or so poorly recorded, as to be painful to hear? Or maybe they’re holding on to it to build another release around. The answer is… well, you know.