Lou Reed Lives

Legendary rocker’s archives now open to the public

Volume 119, No. 5May, 2019

Lou Reed was a member of Local 802 for almost 50 years. The Lou Reed Archive is based at the Music and Recorded Sound Division on the third floor of the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts, 40 Lincoln Center Plaza (65th St and Columbus Ave). The archive includes 3,600 audio and 1,300 video recordings. For a guide to accessing the collection, visit Above: a 1977 photo of Lou Reed (not from the collection), and, from the collection, handwritten lyrics for Reed’s song “Tatters” from his album “Ecstasy” (2000). Photo (left): Arista Records/Photo by Mick Rock. Lyric scan (right) courtesy Jonathan Blanc/The New York Public Library

The legendary Lou Reed was a member of Local 802 for almost 50 years until his death in 2013. Now, for the first time, his archives at the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts are open to the public. The collection documents the history of Reed’s life as a musician, composer, poet, writer, photographer, and Tai-Chi student through his own extensive papers, photographs, recordings and other media.

The archive spans Reed’s creative life – from his 1958 Freeport High School band, The Shades, his job as a staff songwriter for the budget music label, Pickwick Records, and his rise to prominence through The Velvet Underground and subsequent solo career, to his final performances in 2013.

Reed’s history as a live performer is deeply detailed by photographs, audio and video recordings, posters, handbills, extensive tour itineraries, agreements, receipts, correspondence, laminates, and passes. There are extensive examples of U.S. and international press in binders, scrapbooks and folders for Reed’s albums, performances, theatre works, books, and photography exhibits.

The Lou Reed Archive includes:

  • Original manuscript, lyrics, poetry and handwritten tai-chi notes
  • Photographs of Reed, including artist prints and inscriptions by the photographers
  • Tour itineraries, agreements, road manager notes and paperwork
  • 600+ hours of live recordings, demos, studio recordings and interviews
  • Reed’s own extensive photography work
  • Album, book, and tour artwork; mock-ups, proofs and match-prints
  • Lou Reed album and concert posters, handbills, programs, and promotional items
  • Lou Reed press for albums, tours, performances, books, and photography exhibits
  • Fan mail
  • Personal collections of books, LPs and 45s

The collection documents collaborations, friendships, and relationships with Delmore Schwartz, Andy Warhol, John Cale, Maureen Tucker, Sterling Morrison, Mick Rock, Robert Quine, Sylvia Ramos, Doc Pomus, Václav Havel, Hal Willner, John Zorn, Robert Wilson, Julian Schnabel and Laurie Anderson.

The audio and video collection includes over 600 hours of original demos; studio recordings; live recordings; and interviews from 1965 to 2013. All of Reed’s major tours and many of his guest performances are represented in the collection.

Lou Reed’s iconic persona was captured by noted photographers who trained their lenses on Lou at concerts or for album artwork and press features. They are represented in the archive by copies or original artist proofs, many of which are inscribed. This collection of photographs covers the extent of his artistic career from a 1958 variety show performance by The Shades to Lou’s final public performances in 2013. The collection includes contact sheets, negatives and unpublished photographs.

Reed’s own photography is also represented in the collection. Reed began working with photography in the 1970s when, inspired by the work of Billy Name, he modified a video camera to make high-contrast images. Over the years he captured over 10,000 images. In 2006 at the Steven Kasher Gallery Reed held his first major New York photography exhibit, “Lou Reed: New York.” He published several photo books, including “Romanticism,” a series of landscapes shot largely with a digital camera converted to create infrared images. This work was shown in 2009 at the Adamson Gallery in Washington, D.C. Reed took photographs in New York, Scotland, Denmark, Spain, Rome, China and Big Sur.

The archive gives a comprehensive view of the creative process and business interactions of one of the 20th century’s major musical figures. The collections document his Velvet Underground albums and performances, his solo albums, his extensive solo tours, collaborative music projects, theatre works, books and articles that he authored, his own photography, and his personal tai-chi studies. Reed was a life-long resident and a uniquely New York City songwriter, performer and photographer. The archive documents NYC through the words, music and photographs of one of the city’s most notable creative artists.

Lou Reed’s uncompromising artistry has inspired generations of musicians and artists. The Lou Reed Archive is a matchless record of Reed’s iconic career and a vital resource for scholarship, study, exhibition and dissemination of his work, as well as a dynamic resource for studies of the cultural and musical renaissance that Reed significantly influenced.

For more information on visiting the archive, see