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Lou Reed Papers: Syracuse University

The Hidden Corners of the Lou Reed Papers

Syracuse University

Lou Reed began his studies at Syracuse University in Fall 1960. Starting off as a Journalism major, he quickly discovered it was not for him. In a 2002 conversation with John Pareles, Lou Reed described his early college experience:

I was in the Journalism school and studied the triangular paragraph. In those days Journalism school said you weren't supposed to express an opinion so that was that. Then I moved from there to taking directing in the Drama Department, film making in the film department, and English in the English Department. All of which were the kind of things that when you graduated you were considered useless.

... and his thoughts on college degrees:

You may have people around you who say "you should really have a trade to fall back on, you should have a real job". Now here I am and they're letting 40,000 people off at the Ford plant. All the guys at Wall Street, their bubble burst, their gone. You know, I'm still here. By that I mean, you should be carful of this advice people give. It's very restrictive advice.

DJ Lou Reed

On March 8th, 2019 Lou Reed was celebrated in the Syracuse Area Music Awards (SAMMY's) with the 2019 Lifetime Achievement Award. On the occasion his first outing as a radio DJ was recounted.

He worked as a DJ on campus radio station WAER but was quickly fired for his esoteric playlist and on-air arguments with listeners, while launching the underground campus literary magazine called Lonely Women’s Quarterly. Sounds just like Lou, doesn’t it?

His show was called "Excursions on a Wobbly Rail" and it did not fit into standard WAER programming. In an article published a week after Reed's passing, Syracuse University's The Daily Orange offers more from then WAER head Katharine Barr.

I knew I was in trouble from this part when instead of it being ‘The Lou Reed Show’ or ‘Lou Reed Jazz’ or whatever, he called the program ‘Excursions on a Wobbly Rail’

Lonely Woman Quarterly

Copies of Lou Reed's short-lived campus poetry zine The Lonely Woman Quarterly are housed in Syracuse University Libraries Special Collections Center. It was started in the Spring of 1962 and had three editions.

1st Edition Spring 1962
2nd Edition May 23, 1962
3rd Edition April, 1963

In this publication we have Lou Reed's collaboration with Jim Tucker, who's family would play a part in the Velvet Underground later in the decade.

Syracuse University Diploma

There is very little paper material in the Lou Reed Papers that point to Reed's time at Syracuse. At this time he frequently went under his birth name "Lewis Reed" used here. The Lou Reed Papers do have are two objects that speak to the very end of his student career.

Below is a Deans List Award from his final Spring 1964 term.

Below is Lou Reed's Syracuse University Diploma for a Bachelor's Degree in English.

Garland Jeffreys

Born in 1943 in Sheepshead Bay, Brooklyn, Garland Jeffreys attended Syracuse University, class of 1965. It's not clear when or how he met Lou Reed, but they were both musicians investigating alternative directions - while Reed was focusing on literature, Jeffreys was studying Renaissance art history. Jeffreys never attended any Delmore Schwartz lectures but was also familiar with the famous extracurricular discussions. He and Reed shared an appreciation for the rough living professor, both seeing in him a "figure of intelligence," as Jeffreys later put it. They maintained their friendship until Reed's death in 2013, making their relationship one of, if not the most, lasting friendships of Reeds life.

On May 31, 2019, Laurie Anderson, archivist Don Fleming, and wife Claire Jeffreys interviewed Garland Jeffreys. During it Jeffreys recounts his impressions of Reed at Syracuse:

When Lou and I met each other, we were like brothers. We were speaking the same language. We liked rock and roll... What I want to say, is that I loved the guy. We were very close.


He loved all that doo-wop and street corner music, and I grew up in Sheepshead Bay with guys who like Davy Nichols, Stetson Nichols. They were right on the corner. I know that Lou didn't have that kind of voice, but he tried. He wanted to have that. And for that, I loved the guy, what he was interested in, in that way.


Lou would have his mouth open when I would sing. He just loved it. That's one of our bonds. He couldn't do that, but that was cool. And I could sing.


He just didn't have it, and he was jealous of it. But in a sweet way.

Both, on graduating Syracuse would travel back to New York City and dive headfirst into long and lauded Rock careers. Separately, they haunted downtown music clubs through the mid-late '60s - Jeffreys solo and with his group Grinder's Switch; Reed with the Velvet Underground. They would enter their solo recording careers at around the same time - Jeffreys in 1973 with Garland Jeffreys on Atlantic Records; Reed in 1972 with Lou Reed on RCA. They would continue to step into each others careers multiple times, collaborating on songs during the '70s and early '80s, and again in the 2010s.

Delmore Schwartz

Born December 8, 1913, Delmore Schwartz was a hugely influential writer and poet who found early success at the age of 24 when he published his first and most lauded short story "In Dreams Begin Responsibility". During his lifetime he published 6 books, wrote the one-act play Shenandoah, and had poetry published in a number of major publications starting in 1939. Posthumously his poetry and short stories have been collected many times. A distinctly troubled person later in life, he struggled with alcoholism, drug use, and mental illness, finding it hard to rise to his initial successes. By the early 1960s he was teaching at Syracuse University, one of many universities where he would teach creative writing classes. Photograph of Lou Reed's copies of Delmore Schwartz's In Dreams Begin Responsibilities as displayed in the exhibit "Lou Reed: Between Twisted Stars"This is where, in Fall 1962, Lou Reed attend his class on Milton and became entranced by him. 

Schwartz had a reputation for being able to bring alive T.S. Eliot while reading from his own heavily annotated copies, and for being a great conversationalist, presiding with students over a table at the local bar for hours through the night. Lou Reed, now in his junior and senior years of undergrad, would zealously attend those late night meetings and listened to every word he said.

Garland Jeffreys, a friend of Reed, and fellow musician and student at Syracuse would say later that at these late night conversations with Schwartz taught him how to drink - Dubonnet on the rocks with a twist. 

In a 2002 conversation with the New York Time's chief popular music critic Jon Pareles, Lou Reed talked about how Delmore Schwartz influenced his career:

In Dreams Begin Responsibilities is probably one of my favorite short stories ever written. It's 5 pages long, if that. The simplest language imaginable. But it's incredible direct and complex and causes emotions in the reader. I was inspired by that. [...] There was no polysyllabic words really in it and I thought "well, anybody really should be able to do this..." and then with Rock & Roll I thought it would be so easy to just move the one genre to the other. Because that type of writing is rhythmic and hopefully poetic in the first place so I could combine two things I'm crazy about. That was the impetus, but it started with Delmore...

It was astonishing to me that you could take such simple language and do that. For me it was like discovering the wheel.Detail of Velvet Underground & Nico record label

Schwartz was never a fan of popular music. Shelley Albin, Lou Reed's then girlfriend, recounted to biographer Aiden Levy in his book Dirty Blvd. about how Schwartz would ask her to steer Reed away from rock music and towards writing. Schwartz famously warned Lou Reed, in Reed's words,

I'm gonna be leaving for a world far better than this soon, but I want you to know that if you ever sell out and go work for Madison Avenue or write junk, I will haunt you.

This was a sentiment that made an impact on Lou Reed, and for Delmore Schwartz would prove prescient. While still charismatic in his way, Schwartz had become increasingly paranoid, despondent and depressed. By this time he was not a reliable friend, writer, or professor. His late night conversations with students became his sole daily connection to the outside world, violently eschewing the Syracuse English department and faculty. He would stay at Syracuse University until January 1966 when he suddenly and without word left for New York.

Living in near complete isolation, Lou Reed had managed to become one of very few people who knew where he was staying. On the occasion Reed tried to visit him at his hotel in Chelsea, Schwartz turned him away. All the same, Schwartz would pass away that summer and Reed would be at his funeral.

The Velvet Underground song "European Son" was recorded for Velvet Underground & Nico in April of 1966, three months before Schwartz's death on July 11, 1966. Printed on the album's B-side label, the song has the addendum "to Delmore Shwartz", the first of a long line of recognitions that Reed would make for his lost mentor.

Lou Reed at Alice Tully HallLou Reed/Garland Jeffreys concert bill on display

Lou Reed's first concert in New York City as a solo performer was on January 27, 1973 at none-other than Alice Tully Hall at Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts -  just a block away from NYPL Library for the Performing Arts, where the Lou Reed Papers reside today.

This was right around the time Garland Jeffreys was releasing his first solo album Garland Jeffreys (1973) so when Reed's manager was looking for an opening act, Jeffrey's old connection and rising star was a great fit. In the 2019 interview Jeffreys said of that night:

It was a big thrill, and I felt like ... it was because of Lou that I was there. He was just ... he included me in as many things as he could. He wasn't selfish in that way. 

During the American half of Lou Reed's Transformer Tour 1972-73, before and after the Alice Tully Hall concert, Garland Jeffrey and his band toured with them as the opening act.

The accompanying photo is of a souvenir flyer on display in the NYPLPA exhibit "Lou Reed: Caught Between Twisted Stars" from the December 22, 1972 concert at Cleveland Music Hall in Cleveland, OH during the Transformer Tour. The flyer was loaned to the library for the exhibit courtesy of Laurie Anderson. The cover of the flyer equally bills Lou Reed and Garland Jeffreys, but contained are two Lou Reed poems “Playing Music is not Like Athletics” and “Music hath charms to soothe the savage beast”.