Pickwick started Lou’s career. It taught him the discipline of showing up.
Achieving artistic success requires a combination of talent, luck, and hard work. The exact proportion is different in every case, but you need some of all of them. And of the three, only the last one is under your control.
In rock’n’roll this is complicated by the fact that it’s uncool to look like you’re trying too hard.1So the work has to happen behind the scenes, but having the “discipline of showing up,” as Schupak puts it, makes a difference.
Lou Reed was lucky in that, even before falling into the orbit of Andy Warhol — artistic workaholic par excellence — he had his time at Pickwick International, where his actual job was to write as many songs as he could as quickly as possible. It only lasted a few months but was tremendously productive and educational. Lou recalled:
There were four of us literally locked in a room writing songs. We just churned out songs, that’s all. They would say, “Write ten California songs, ten Detroit songs,” then we’d go down to the studio for an hour or two and cut three or four albums really quickly, which came in handy later because I knew my way around the studio, not well enough but I could work really fast.
He’s probably slightly exaggerating the speed of work there, but still there are many songs from this brief period. In the weeks to come that should mean more frequent posts with relatively little commentary, and won’t that be nice for all of us?
Of special note is “The Ostrich,” which forms the bridge between Pickwick and the Velvet Underground. For this reason I will not cover it till last, though it was technically released before some of the other Pickwick material. (That doesn’t mean you can’t listen to it now anyway.) Essentially we will treat Lou’s five months at Pickwick (September 1964–February 1965) as one extended frenzy of creation.
Author Anthony DeCurtis says that Pickwick was a “songwriting emergency room. Every problem, difficulty, or complexity that could present itself in a songwriting situation did.” So let’s say the day’s challenge was to come up with something in a Motown girl-group style, perhaps reminiscent of a certain recent Martha & the Vandellas hit, though not enough to be legally actionable. Lou and his co-writers would put their heads together and come up with this:
Pretty convincing, innit? If you didn’t know better you’d think it was the real thing. By the time it’s over you might well be ready to pack your bags and move to Soul City — although I have a feeling that when you got there, it wouldn’t be what you expected.
I will wait to listen to “The Ostrich.” Anticipation!
Reminiscent of that classic Rutles tune, “Please please please, hold my hand”