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Lou Reed Papers: Lou Reed & Vaclav Havel

The Hidden Corners of the Lou Reed Papers

Throughout Lou Reed's life he attracted and sought out innumerable creative and independent voices with whom he surrounded himself. From books inscribed in his college days by his professor and mentor Delmore Schwartz to faxed portraits of him from his friend and collaborator Dion DiMucci, Reed's relationships are captured throughout the Lou Reed Papers. They extend outside of the world of Poetry and Music, however, beyond the English-Speaking world.

Lou Reed & Václav Havel

Perhaps the most unexpected yet best documented friendships of Lou Reed's life was was with writer, poet, playwright, revolutionary, and politician Václav Havel.

Václav Havel (October 5, 1936 - December 18, 2011) was President of Czechoslovakia from 1989-1993, it's first and last of the Post-communist Era, and resided over the nations peaceful dissolution into the Czech Republic and the Slovak Republic, on December 31, 1992. Havel, a Czech, would immediately go onto lead the Czech Republic for its first 10 years. 

Up until 1968 Václav Havel had been a respected and successful playwright in Czechoslovakia. In august of that year Czechoslovakia was invaded by the USSR, causing Havel to speak out against the occupation and the consequent soviet leaning Community Party. That same year, presumably before the invasion, Havel had visited the United State and was introduced to the Velvet Underground when he was given a copy of their 2nd album White Light/White Heat (1968). His home country of Soviet era Czechoslovakia applied strict censorship over music and all other creative output so, in a time and place where free creativity was an act of rebellion, the sound of the Velvet Underground was revolutionary. They and other musicians from the Western Bloc, Frank Zappa & the Mothers of Invention being another noted group, were influential to one particular psychedelic rock group based in Prague called The Plastic People of the Universe.

Václav Havel was friends with The Plastic People of the Universe, and would help them many times in the years to come.

This revolution of ours had an artistic face. It also had a specific musical background. At the end of the '60s there was a wave here of Rock music. Most of the bands after the Soviet invasion broke up or started to play different music because good rock music was actually banned. There was one band that lasted it, and did not rename and did not change. There were several but this one was best known. Their style of music was much influenced by the Velvet Underground. This band became much persecuted... they only could play at private parties. It's name was the Plastic People of the Universe, and around it they originated a whole underground movement in the dark '70s and '80s. They were arrested and with several friends we organized a campaign against their arrest.

This lead to a community of solidarity of sorts. Most of the musicians were released or received light sentences under the pressure of our campaign. It seemed to us that this community shouldn't just dissolve and that's how the Charter 77 Human Rights movement originated. [...] This was a sign of the things to come. Charter 77 united many people of different background and views in their common resistances to the totalitarian system.


By this I mean to say that underground music, in particular one record by a band called Velvet Underground, played a rather significant role in the development of our country.

- Vaclav Hável, 1990 (Lou Reed Papers)

On November 17, 1989 the Velvet Revolution (aka Gentle Revolution) began in response to the Czechoslovakian government's suppression of a student demonstration in Prague. Members of Charter 77, not least of which Václav Havel, lead key parts of the movement and ended up in high positions following the establishment of the Parliamentary Republic. Vaclav Havel was elected the first president of the reconstituted government on December 29, 1989, thus concluding the revolution.


A handful of months after that, he sat down with Lou Reed for an interview. Rolling Stone Magazine was interested in publishing a story about the Velvet Revolution and the new president, so when Havel gave them list of acceptable interviewers, and Reed's name was on it, Rolling Stone hired him on a per-word-submitted basis. Before 1990 was up, Reed flew to Prague, interviewed the president, performed for him and his friends in a small club in Prague, and went home to write it up for the magazine. The interview was fortunately recorded and transcribed - Reed recorded the audio on his own hand-held tape recorder - and a cassette of it is in the Lou Reed Papers. It is the source of the above and below quotes.

Rolling Stone Magazine never published the article, giving back the article transcript and all. Lou Reed shopped it around and it was promptly published by Musician Magazine in their October 1990 issue (Vol. 15, Issue No. 144).

I think of Kafka when I read you.

- Lou Reed, 1990