As far as I can tell there are no extant recordings of Lou Reed’s college bands. This is too bad because a) I’m very curious what they sounded like and b) it would give me some material to work with during this period of his life. Instead, all we have is a pair of songs he recorded for Shad Records in either 1960 or 1962, depending on who you ask.1
Bob Shad didn’t release them at the time; they only saw the light of day in 2000 on an EP of dubious provenance called All Tomorrow’s Dance Parties. It’s possible they they were actually only demos that Shad meant to recut at a later date with a more polished vocalist. But in any case, they are the first Lou Reed lead vocals put on tape, and that’s something. I plan to cover them in two posts that will have to span Lou’s last three years at Syracuse, and that’s going to necessiatate some skimming. For greater depth I commend you to Victor Bockris’s Transformer, which covers this period in borderline-exhausting detail.
The putative A-side is called “Your Love,” and pretty much picks up where the Jades left off:
Pretty catchy, but run-of-the-mill stuff, except for the vocal — which is as loud and strong and sure as Lou ever got, but already with a hint of the jaded sneer that we know so well. Though he is singing his own words, he sounds above it all somehow.
“Your Love” was one of many songs inspired by Shelley Albin, who Lou met at the beginning of his sophomore year. If Bockris is to be believed, Shelley was a beauty of classic proportions:
Looked at straight on, what struck you first were her eyes. An inner light glimmered through them. Her nose was straight and perfect. Her jawline and chin were so finely sculpted that they became the subject of many an art student at Syracuse. It was an open and closed face. Her mouth said yes. Yet her eyes had a Modigliani/Madonna quality that bayed, you keep your distance.[sic] Her light brown hair reflected in her pale cream skin gave it a times a reddish tint.
This picture doesn’t quite do that description justice, but then how could it?
Lou and Shelley met cute:
Lou saw her riding down the university’s main drag, Marshall Street, in the front seat of a car driven by a blond football player who belonged to the other Jewish fraternity on campus and recognized Reed as their local holy fool. Thinking to amuse his date… he pulled over, laughing, and said “Here’s Lou! He’s very shocking and evil!” (Bockris again)
In short order Shelley dumped the football player. “I was intrigued by the evil shit,” she later said. And she got her money’s worth — theirs was an intense and fraught relationship full of ups and downs. Lou and Shelley shared clothes and played basketball together; they fought, broke up, and got back together again. Lou brought Shelley home to meet his parents; he used her as a drug mule. He serenaded her with songs of great sensitivity; he cheated on her repeatedly, often with men.
Which raises the question, Just How Gay Was Lou? Spoiler alert: This question cannot and will not be answered, but I find that it tends to pop up now and again in reading and thinking about him. Clearly he had feelings for both women and men; that he sometimes played up his homosexual exploits for shock value doesn’t make them not real. He married several women over the years, not that that proves anything of course. For a while in the Seventies his partner was “Rachel,” who… well, actually, let’s not get into that just yet.
Anyway, it was Shelley who would inspire not just “Your Love,” but “I Can’t Stand It Anymore,” “I’ll Be Your Mirror” and “Pale Blue Eyes.”2She would continue to occupy an important place in Lou’s life even after they broke up for the last time circa 1964.
We’ll be hearing a lot from Lou in this blog, so in the interest of a little equal time, I’ll give Shelley the last word for now:
[Lou] could be very sweet. He’s probably the only person who ever literally gave me a heart-shaped box of chocolates on Valentine’s Day. But he wasn’t happy unless he made somebody more miserable than he was. That is exactly what he fed off as an artist, as a writer, as a songwriter. Misery made for his best work, whether it came from me or somebody else. So I’d call him a romantic and I’d call him sweet, but I’d also call him an incredible pain in the ass. He wasn’t anybody I wanted to live with and put up with. It wasn’t worth it.