Wednesday, 17 May 2017

Laurie Anderson on the Lou Reed Archive


Laurie Anderson on Lou Reed’s Love, Work and Retirement Plan

Ben Sisario
The New York Times
3 March 2017

Last week, I sat down with the artist Laurie Anderson at her office in TriBeCa for what I expected would be a fairly short interview to discuss the archive of her late husband, Lou Reed, who died in 2013. We wound up speaking for almost two hours; with Will, her latest dog, sitting next to me, I heard the little robotic voice on her laptop first announce “4 o’clock,” then “5 o’clock.”

She and Don Fleming, her archivist, explained the origins of the project and played clips from some of the more than 600 hours of audio from the archive. All of it is now being cataloged and digitized, and will eventually be available for anyone to listen to at the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts, at Lincoln Center.

Ms. Anderson also spoke about her hopes for the archive, the “art ranch” that she and Mr. Reed dreamed of starting in their retirement, and the parts of life that can’t be saved on a shelf. Here are edited excerpts from the conversation.

Origins of the Archive Project

Lou and I didn’t really talk about [his archive]. He fought for his life to the very last second.

We had this sort of retirement plan. It was the L&L Art Ranch. Lou always wanted to have a club where he could play every night, and musicians could drop by. We had the brand: it was an X with two L’s, like that. [Crosses fingers.] After he died, I went through a moment of like, “O.K., I’ll build it!” Julian Schnabel was helping design the L&L Art Ranch in Red Hook.

I was very happy that he trusted me to do this. I feel like it’s really what I wanted, that people will get to hear it and it wouldn’t be hidden away. That was my worst fear, that it goes into some cave. I have friends who that’s happened to. An artist, very well known, gave his work to Harvard, and then like a year later he needed one thing, and he said, Can I get that from the archive? And they said no.

I was not going to give this to a place that feels like that.

Lou Reed, Writer

Lou was a writer. He was a writer who sang his words. He was a character in his own universe, but it was not like reading other songwriters’ confessional songwriting.

When he wrote songs, he didn’t just write them. He would just get up in the morning and the song would be done. It was infuriating. He’d just type it out. There were not 20 versions of it. I’m watching this and going, “I’m writing 1,700 versions of every song, and I have notebooks on every lame attempt to write, all crossed out.”

He never did that. He wrote it in his head. I saw him do that over and over. And then I would see phrases that he had said six months ago, or see an object. The blue glass by the window in “Set the Twilight Reeling” — I’d remember, “Oh, he’s talking about when we put that vase there.”

Lovers and Teachers

We originally bonded over electronics. Going to A.E.S. [Audio Engineering Society] conferences, talking mics. As soon as we fell in love, we just fell in love. There was no in between.

He was really romantic. He was the sweetest, most tender person I’ve ever met. He was also incredibly fierce. He didn’t hide his emotions. He allowed himself to do the whole spectrum — he really wasn’t censoring it.

[In the archive] you see the love of his teachers, too. Teachers were incredibly important to Lou, starting with Warhol. Bob Wilson was another version of Andy for him: an impresario who told him what to do. “Lou, I want you to write 10 songs that are about this.” He liked being told what to write.

You’ll see what an incredibly hard worker he was. One of the visions of himself as this insouciant guy who didn’t care — it was a Lou Reed creation. You don’t do that many records, that many shows, that many photographs without an incredible amount of drive.

Hopes for an Archive

For young musicians, they’ll get to see somebody who created his own image, but also behind the scenes was doing a lot of work. It also gives a picture of somebody who didn’t always make fantastic things. I love having that available to people, because it gives people courage to see, wow, Lou Reed made that thing? That was horrible. This is great for all of us who know how hard it is to find a style, find a voice.

I think [the archive] is going to develop as the library decides how to present it. I hope that people would be encouraged to go into the collection in different ways, that the Performing Arts Library can give people some paths into it that are not so intimidating. That would be nice.

What Can’t Be Archived

This archive is a wonderful collection. It’s not Lou, of course. It’s not Lou at all. No archive is the person that was there — all of those things which are the texture and fabric of someone’s life that contains their sense of humor, the sound of their voice.

The one thing I really miss from this archive that was such a big part of Lou — and can’t really be archived — is his dedication to meditation. He made a very extensive study of the nature of mind, but there is no physical trace of it. He left no footprints.

And that’s kind of thrilling to me, that so much of life can’t be captured. It can’t live anywhere. It just lives in your mind, and dies with it. And it’s inspiring that you can’t hold on to a lot of things — you can’t hold on to the most important things.

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