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New York Public Library boasts 'Lou Reed: Caught Between the Twisted Stars'


Entering the Lou Reed listening room at The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts’ new exhibit ‘Lou Reed: Caught Between the Twisted Stars’, it’s easy to forget that you’re in a library at all. The space is built to make you feel completely immersed in the sound—bumping ‘Metal Machine Music’ in the original quadraphonic mix. Raj Patel, Principal at Arup and lead developer of the Metal Machine Trio, specifically formulated the recording to mimic the experience from Reed’s own perspective.

Programming the library to blast ‘Metal Machine Music’ at 90 decibels every morning for two months straight might seem a little out of place, but walking through the full exhibition, you’ll soon find that it’s actually a perfect fit. It’s there to make you stop, be still, and take in the full learning experience, which is what being in a library is all about.

The listening room actually comes at the end of the full exhibition, which is, to put it lightly, a treasure trove of artefacts from the life and career of Lou Reed. Stepping through the low-lit museum hall, there is a unique and special touch that comes with showcasing Reed like this: one that can only come with the great care and attention curators Don Fleming and Jason Stern so clearly paid. 

The highlights are plentiful, from holiday cards sent to and from Velvet Underground drummer Moe Tucker – where they address each other with pet names – to original poetry, Reed’s actual college degree, musical instruments, and, of course, the talk-of-the-town secret tape from 1965 that was never opened during Reed’s lifetime. But one of the very best parts about all of these details – and what makes them come together as perhaps more than the sum of their parts – is the opportunity to truly sift through it all and drink it in.

Thay sentiment is felt especially strong with artists like Lou Reed, one history’s rock legends for whom the star power is plentiful, and it’s still relatively rare to encounter the full museum-curation-treatment. Seeing everything labelled and laid out in a careful space intended for reading and learning is an opportunity to see Lou Reed and his life in an entirely different light. Many of the years of his life that get very little attention elsewhere are able to be put on display here due to the format alone.

Close to the end of the exhibition, the space opens up into a vast catalogue of Reed’s record collection. Again, it’s a place where you’re meant to drink it all in and look around. The walls are filled with personal copies and bootlegs (which, fun fact, Lou Reed loved to collect), and that’s in addition to a few selected shelves of other favourites. 

The New York Public Library allowed us all to dig a little deeper into Lou Reed—to see him from a new angle. The library may not seem like the best place to showcase a rock legend, but The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts has shown us just how unique and valuable it can be to think outside the box.