(Happy Birthday to John Cale, and to any other March 9 babies out there.)

As the years and decades have passed, and I’ve listened more and more to the grand geniuses of classic rock — your Velvets and Beatles, your Bowies and Hendrixes, your one and only Bob Dylan — it’s slowly dawned on me just how far ahead of everybody Zimmy was. Not necessarily in terms of music, per se; Dylan was and is a singing poet, not a sonic adventurer like the others named. But in terms of a certain kind of expression, one that allows you to be a popular musician playing popular music while still retaining some intellectual dignity, Dylan was the original and served as the north star for all who followed.

As previously mentioned, Dylan was only ten months older than Lou Reed, but his decision to drop out of college after one year and turn pro gave him a crucial head start. By the time Lou graduated from Syracuse and began pursuing a career — which initially involved writing songs for hire, a sort of rock’n’roll grad school — Dylan had established himself as the Voice of His Generation (TM). Lou chased him for awhile then, seeing how futile that was, gave up and started running in a whole different direction, terribly fast.

But when the Ludlow Street demos were recorded in July 1965, he was still clearly in Dylan’s thrall. Even the harmonica, which I thought Lou had long abandoned at this point, makes an appearance in “Prominent Men”:

This would be straight-up folk music if not for the subtle presence of Cale’s slightly dissonant viola. As is, it’s a bit of a halfway song, not quite Dylan, not quite the VU. The lyric is definitely Dylanesque — dealing in social/political generalities with a poetic twist, delivered with a haughty sneer — but not Dylan-quality (though Lou gets off a few good lines). There are vague traces of the later (Berlin-era) “Men of Good Fortune.”

“Prominent Men” would soon be dropped from the repertoire, and this was the right decision.