Today is the 81st anniversary of the birth of Lewis Allen Reed, and also (not coincidentally) the first birthday of this blog.1I think it’s gone pretty well so far, but there is room for improvement. Now that I have a sense of the size and speed of the project, I realize that it may well take me the rest of my days, or longer, to complete. Which is fine! One should always have an uncompleted project of some kind; it gives you a reason to keep living.
Anyway, we are currently in 1965 in blog time. The timeline gets a bit jumbled here because we are talking about the period when Lou Reed and John Cale first started hanging out together while listening to music recorded slightly later, when they’d had some time to start developing the musical chemistry that would give rise to the VU and to the 30,000 bands that followed in its wake.
Had this blog been started even a bit earlier, we would not have had access to the 1965 demo that Reed and Cale recorded as a two-man band. After making the tape Reed mailed it to himself in order to establish what’s known as a “poor man’s copyright”; it then sat unopened among his possessions for more than 50 years. Only years after his death, as his archives were being catalogued for an exhibit at the New York Public Library, was it heard again.
Subsequently it was given the full modern treatment: digitally remastered; streamed on Spotify and YouTube; released on high-quality vinyl, a CD with a fancy pointillist cover, and even 8-track, the fashionably retro medium of the moment. This is a bit at odds with music that is so resolutely primitive — just voices, acoustic guitar, and a bit of harmonica.
Even having had some time to absorb them, it remains weird to hear these folky versions of Lou’s songs, especially given John’s professed hatred for folk music. You get an idea of a different direction they could have gone in, one which might have been more commercially successful but much less innovative and influential. Imagining Reed and Cale as a folk duo à la Simon and Garfunkel seems like a stretch, but a smart producer probably could have smoothed over their rough edges and moved some product.
“Too Late,” for instance, is a charming tune. The Dylan influence is palpable, and the rhythm of the words recalls “A Hard Rain’s a-Gonna Fall.” (I see that “Hard Rain” was written all the way back in 1962… man… Dylan was way ahead of everybody, wasn’t he?) Reed and Cale have fun with the call-and-response vocal, just goofing around; they were not yet Too Cool for that sort of thing. There’s even whistling, ferchrissakes.
Of course there will be more to say — about Lou and John, about the demos, and about the “Caught Among the Twisted Stars” exhibit, which I caught this week in NYC. But for today it is… you guessed it… too late.