The New York Public Library has been privy to plenty of documents, exclusive archives, and files of all varieties over the years. And why wouldn’t they be? It remains among the largest public library systems in the world, and they’ve housed thousands of fantastic texts and documents, including, most recently, a treasure trove of Lou Reed’s archives.
While some people might already know, for those who aren’t in the loop, many musicians operated with what is often referred to as a “poor man’s copyright” in order to show proof of their songs or writings. Written on any given date without having to go through the expensive and tedious process of the United States Copyright Office, this procedure props up countless historic creations.
Therefore, on May 11th, 1965, Lou Reed mailed a 5″ reel-to-reel tape box that was later found still sealed in a notarised package. The parcel had the same sending address and return address — that of his parent’s home in Long Island. The package even used his proper name, Lewis, for its official purposes.
The postmark on the package was from the Baldwin, NY, post office, which happened to be just a mile from his family home. The package had a registration number of #3827 and, additionally, the 5″ tape box inside was a Scotch 111 tape, an inexpensive and popular tape stock used
for home recording with portable reel-to-reel recorders.
Even though Reed did mail and seal the package himself, he never opened it in his lifetime. In fact, the tape was found neatly filed and still sealed on a bookshelf just behind his desk at Sister Ray Enterprises, according to the New York Public Library archives.
Although there had been some deliberation as to whether the tape should be unsealed, it was eventually opened to reveal Reed’s earliest versions of ‘Heroin’, ‘I’m Waiting for the Man’, ‘Pale Blue Eyes’, and ‘Wrap Your Troubles in Dreams’, in addition to six other original songs that mostly have remained unheard until the unveiling of the tape. John Cale can also be heard on some of the tracks singing harmonies. The two had recently met, and therefore were beginning to explore their musical ideas together.
Right now, you can actually go see the tape on display at The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts as a part of the Lou Reed exhibition. The best part? They actually let you listen to it. It just goes to show that while sometimes it takes a while for an artist to churn out their very best, some people just have that magic songwriting spark from the jump.