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A long-lost Lou Reed tape with a surprise: Andy Warhol lyrics
US Rock Star and Photographer Lou Reed gives a press conference to present his book "Rhymes" in this November 14, 2012 file photo in Paris. AFP PHOTO / ERIC FEFERBERG.

by Ben Sisario

NEW YORK (NYT NEWS SERVICE).- It is one of rock’s most famously fraught relationships: Lou Reed and Andy Warhol, who managed Reed’s groundbreaking 1960s band, the Velvet Underground, for a couple of years before an acrimonious split. Warhol’s ideas on art, pop culture and hard work loomed over Reed for the rest of his career, though the two never worked together again.

But a decades-old cassette tape, uncovered in Warhol’s archive, suggests a path untaken: a suite of songs by Reed based on snippets from his mentor’s 1975 book, “The Philosophy of Andy Warhol: From A to B and Back Again,” which may have been connected to loose plans the two made to collaborate on a stage musical.

The tape, recorded in 1975, was found by Judith A. Peraino, a Cornell music professor, who said she stumbled across it two years ago at the Andy Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh while researching a book about Warhol in the ’70s.

As Peraino writes in The Journal of Musicology, Side 1 of the tape has live recordings that Reed put together from his 1975 tours, with songs from his albums “Sally Can’t Dance” (1974) and “Coney Island Baby” (1976). But Side 2 — labeled “Philosophy Songs (From A to B & Back)” in scrawled black ink — contains 12 songs, and a fragment of a 13th, that have never been released, and were largely unknown.

When she listened to the tape, Peraino said in an interview, “My mind was being blown all over the place.”

The tape, featuring Reed singing alone with his guitar, documents Reed sketching out new songs, using phrases from Warhol’s “Philosophy” book as raw material for lyrics. One song, for example, draws out variations on the phrase “so what” — “one of my favorite things to say,” Warhol wrote — as a dismissive gesture. Warhol’s takes on fame, sex and the business of art each get a song; drag queens get two.

Other songs turn bitter. In one that presages “Songs for Drella,” the album Reed released in 1990 with his former Velvet Underground bandmate John Cale, Reed turns Warhol’s words against him, excoriating his former mentor for his apparent indifference toward the deaths of two figures from Warhol’s circle, Candy Darling and Eric Emerson. Reed sings that Warhol should have died when he was shot in 1968 — only to end the song with a spoken apology to Warhol, who died in 1987.

“This tape is Lou Reed working out what he does best,” Peraino said, “which is figuring out the character of his song, telling the stories, being as brutally honest as he is in many of his writings.”

The tape sheds new light on the relationship between Reed and Warhol at this time, but the songs’ existence was barely known. The project is absent from most biographies of both men, and Peraino found just one published interview, from 1977, in which Reed mentioned it.

Laurie Anderson, Reed’s widow, who donated his archives to the New York Public Library in 2017, said in an interview that she was unaware of the songs.

“He had talked about some things that he had made for Andy,” Anderson said, “but they were always in the context of Andy telling him how lazy he was. You know, ‘Lou, you’re so laaazy.’

“I think,” she continued, “that may have had a little bit to do with the motivation of him saying, like, ‘OK, you can write a book; I’ll write some songs about your book.’ ”

The Reed archives contain a tape with short excerpts from a few of the “Philosophy” tracks — dubbed over a copy of the Eagles’ album “One of These Nights” — but archivists did not know what they were.

The purpose of the “Philosophy” tape is unclear. Victor Bockris, whose book “Transformer: The Complete Lou Reed Story” is one of the few to make any mention of the songs, said he believed it was an unsuccessful attempt by Reed to return to Warhol’s good graces.

“I’m pretty sure that Warhol would not have wanted to have any working association with Lou,” Bockris said.

Peraino’s research suggests there may have been more to it. Tapes at the Warhol archive document a series of meetings in 1974 in which Warhol and Reed discussed turning Reed’s recent album “Berlin” into a Broadway musical. That never happened, although in early 1975 Warhol was involved in a notorious Broadway flop, “Man on the Moon,” featuring John Phillips from the Mamas and the Papas.

At some point that same year, Peraino found, Warhol resumed discussions with Reed about working together, and gave him an inscribed copy of the printer’s proofs for “The Philosophy of Andy Warhol.” But by the time Reed recorded the songs, he may have soured on the very idea of collaborating — another kink in the men’s complicated relationship.

“I think he was making fun of the idea, digging at Warhol,” Peraino said.

What will become of the tape? Copyright may be a serious hurdle to its being released in the near future. The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts controls Warhol’s intellectual property in the archive, but the contents of the tape could also be claimed by the Reed estate or even his former record company, Peraino said.

Michael Hermann, director of licensing for the Warhol Foundation, said, “Without an understanding of what is included on the tape and who created the recording, we are unable to say at this point what, if anything, the foundation can do to make them more easily accessible.”

Access to the tape, which is still held at the Warhol Museum, is restricted to professional scholars. According to the rules of the museum and the foundation, no copies of it can be made, and Peraino said she was not allowed to quote directly from the lyrics.

But as part of the histories of both Reed and Warhol, Peraino said, scholars and fans would benefit from hearing them.

“These are rough versions of songs which Reed never really perfected,” she said. “Even though they can be quite caustic and bitter at times — as Lou Reed songs can be — they are part of his legacy.”

© 2019 The New York Times Company

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