The NYPL Lou Reed exhibit takes you on a walk on the wild side

Apparently Lou Reed was the H&R block of classic rockers: the man kept his receipts.

Indeed, “Lou Reed: Caught Between the Twisted Stars” — a comprehensive exhibition opening Thursday at the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts — shows just how diligent the “Walk on the Wild Side” icon was to gather evidence of this to receive his purchases. One of the receipts on display is even for the studded dog collar he wears on the cover of his 1974 live album Rock ‘n’ Roll Animal, which Reed bought – in true New York fashion – at the West Village sex shop Pleasure Chest.

“His dad was an accountant and he taught Lou how to keep receipts, how to keep records and all those things,” said curator Jason Stern, who was Reed’s assistant in his final years and now works with his widow, Laurie Anderson. “So I think that probably left a mark.”

That "Lou Reed: Caught Between the Twisted Stars" exhibit.
Lou Reed: Caught Between the Twisted Stars showcases the late rocker’s many musical guises.
Stephen Yang
Lou Reed appears in an undated photo.
Lou Reed appears in an undated photo.
Sygma via Getty Images

This $13.50 Pleasure Chest receipt is among Reed’s personal artifacts bringing some of his downtown New York cool to Lincoln Center in the multimedia exhibit, which runs through March. And it’s certainly striking how much Reed has saved over the years.

At Anderson’s request, Stern and his co-curator Don Fleming — an archivist who once played in the group Half Japanese with Reed’s former Velvet Underground bandmate Moe Tucker — began cataloging Reed’s vast collection of artifacts. And when it came time to put the exhibit together, they got help from Anderson.

“Laurie was kind of our barometer,” Fleming said. “We had a lot more stuff in there… maybe three times what’s in there now. And so she said, ‘You’ve got to cut more than half of it.’ ”

That "Lou Reed: Caught Between the Twisted Stars" exhibit.
Lou Reed: Caught Between the Twisted Stars features photos with his widow, Laurie Anderson, who advised the curators.
Stephen Yang

However, there is still so much to discover about Reed. One room features his poetry, including everything from his published works to a tape of a poetry reading at St Mark’s Church.

“We really wanted to show that at his core he wanted to be a writer and a poet,” Fleming said. “That’s why his work is so literary… There was his heart.”

And there are musical discoveries too, with a multitude of demos and other unreleased material showing the creative process and development of an experimental genius. “I have to say the audio collection is just so rich. Really incredible material,” Stern said, noting a prequel to Reed’s 1975 album Metal Machine Music. “There’s this one cassette called ‘The Electric Rock Symphony.’ It’s about 40 minutes long: the first 20 minutes is guitar feedback, and the second 20 minutes is very pretty piano playing.”

That "Lou Reed: Caught Between the Twisted Stars" exhibit
A room in the Lou Reed: Caught Between the Twisted Stars exhibition features his record collection.
Stephen Yang
Lou Reed in 1978.
Lou Reed in 1978.
Getty Images

The exhibit also showcases the sweeter side of Reed’s relationship with Tucker, including Valentine’s Day cards they sent each other — who dubbed themselves “Honeybun” no less — and photos of them tossing a soccer ball. “I just couldn’t believe I was even seeing Lou holding a football,” Stern said. “It was like the least expected thing we could have found in our collection.”

While Reed’s guitars are more to be expected, there’s also his astrology chart, personal letters, and a room dedicated to his vinyl collection, which reveals his penchant for doo-wop singles and bootlegs. And the exhibition captures the many different musical guises he’s had throughout his legendary career.

That "Lou Reed: Caught Between the Twisted Stars" exhibit
Lou Reed: Caught Between the Twisted Stars is a multimedia experience featuring everything from audio and video to personal photos and memorabilia.
Stephen Yang

“I want people to take away that Lou was an artist who never stopped evolving,” Stern said. “The man contained multitudes.”

Lou Reed: Caught Between the Stars opens June 9 through March 4, 2023 at the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts at Lincoln Center, 40 Lincoln Center Plaza; 917-275-6975, NYPL.org/events/exhibitions/Lou-Reed.

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