It’s the brutally early hour of 9:30 a.m., and I’m at the press showing for Lou Reed: Caught Between the Twisted Stars, the new exhibit of the songwriter’s archives. (It’s now open to the public, no need to suffer.) The New York Times was given a sneak peak of the exhibit, housed at the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts at Lincoln Center, presumably because when you help start the Iraq War, you get to set your own hours. For everybody else, getting a press preview of the Fender 12 used for the Velvet Underground reunion and the receipt for the dog collar worn on the cover of Rock ‘n’ Roll Animal meant waking up right around Candy Darling’s bedtime.
The guided tour was co-led by Jason Stern (Reed’s Technical Director and archivist) and Don Fleming (Reed’s archivist, who may also be familiar to a certain type as the guitarist/vocalist in Gumball and the producer of one of the best Pacific Northwest rock albums of the 1990s), with occasional interjections by the exhibit’s co-curator (and Reed’s widow), the revered visual artist and avant-Sprechgesang-er Laurie Anderson.
In theory, rock ’n’ roll doesn’t belong in a library. Outside certain Van Halen-esque sex-scenarios, the ethos of R&B’s thick witted step-child is built on the idea that school is perpetually out. It’s a bad theory. For one, rock ’n’ roll is nearly a century old; it’s as much an anachronism as books. Secondly, Lou Reed, the pride of Freeport, Long Island, who, with the Velvet Underground, created a viable alternative to the Beatles—and who would later lend his penetrating hepness to poetry, tai chi, and Metallica—rarely subscribed to any theory so existentially limiting as “rock ’n’ roll is this, book learnin’ is that.” Rock ’n’ roll, as far as it might matter anyway, was whatever Lou Reed was into at the time.