The Primitives were short-lived, but Lou Reed and John Cale had found something in each other.1Reed was looking to escape the factory atmosphere of Pickwick and play the gritty songs he was writing, which Terry Philips wanted nothing to do with. Cale was looking to move beyond the abstract and unprofitable world of the avant-garde. It was a match made in… New York City. Says Cale:

There were certain characters I had in mind all along who I thought would be able to succeed in New York. In Lou Reed I found one of those characters. To me, he was the kind of person who would survive in New York, and I wanted to learn from him. You might even say that learning was what I really wanted to do, more than achieve.

And Reed:

We got together and started playing my songs for fun. It was like we were made for each other. He was from the other world of music and fitted me perfectly. He would fit things he played right into my world, it was so natural.

But though they seem to have immediately recognized each other as kindred spirits, their partnership took a while to develop. Here’s Cale again:

My first impressions of Lou were of a high-strung, intelligent, fragile college kid in a poloneck sweater, rumpled jeans and loafers. He had been around and was bruised, trembling, quiet, and insecure. He lived in Freeport, Long Island, with his parents, who kept him on a tight rein. In fact, he was only allowed to come into Manhattan on the weekend; for the rest of the week he was grounded.

Though music was what had brought them together and would make them famous, Reed and Cale initially bonded over heroin. Reed began spending more and more time getting high at Cale’s Lower East Side apartment, until eventually he stopped returning to Freeport altogether. At first, Cale says,

I didn’t want to hear his songs. They seemed sorry for themselves. He’d written “Heroin” already, and “I’m Waiting for My Man,” but they [Pickwick] wouldn’t let him record it, they didn’t want to do anything with it. I wasn’t really interested — most of the music being written then was folk, and he played his songs with an acoustic guitar — so I didn’t really pay attention because I couldn’t give a shit about folk music. I hated Joan Baez and Dylan. Every song a fucking question!

How is it, then, that Cale ended up collaborating on the very folky demos that would someday be released as Lou Reed: Words & Music, May 1965? Long story short, he changed his mind.

He kept pushing [his songs] on me, and finally I saw they weren’t the kind of words you’d get Joan Baez singing. They were very different, he was writing about things other people weren’t. The lyrics were very literate, very well expressed, they were tough.

We will, in time, cover everything on that demo. But I want to start with the songs that weren’t ever recorded elsewhere, starting with one called “Men of Good Fortune.” Confusingly, a song with that exact title appears on the 1973 Berlin album; but the two have nothing else in common. The 1965 “Men” is in the style of the “Child Ballads,” which according to are “Scottish and English folk songs from the 17th and 18th centuries and earlier… named after Francis James Child, the Harvard professor and folklorist who collected them.”

In the late 19th century Child published 10 volumes containing 305 such ballads. Simon and Garfunkel’s “Scarborough Fair” is a version of one, and several were recorded by… yes… Joan Baez. Lou’s song, though it adopts the style, is an original, and a bit of a head-scratcher. It’s a plodding lament written from the point of view of an aging spinster. Why and wherefore? Your guess is as good as mine.

I must admit that I find this hard to listen to. It’s derivative bordering on trite; it’s much too long; and both the vocal and the guitar are slightly out of tune — which is one thing in feedback-laden rock’n’roll, another in a delicate folk song. Unlike the rest of Words & Music, John Cale does not appear on this recording; I guess he hadn’t changed his mind that much. But without Cale’s encouragement it probably wouldn’t exist, nor would the other songs we’ll be looking at in the weeks to come.