In the Special Collections archives at Syracuse University’s Bird Library, Anthony DeCurtis flips through the pages of a 1960’s-era student-made magazine called The Lonely Woman. As he pours over the first few pages, he pauses to notice a peculiar byline at the bottom of one story.
“Luis Reed,” he reads with a small chuckle.
DeCurtis, the author of Lou Reed: A Life and contributing editor at Rolling Stone, recognized The Velvet Underground singer’s gender-swapped name immediately. The origins of Reed’s career as a musician and lyricist, DeCurtis said, can be found here from his time as a student at Syracuse University.
“Lou was very proud of it in his own way, but he wouldn’t really I don’t think ever admit that,” DeCurtis said, “but he would tell you ‘I graduated with honors in English.’ You know, that’s not a really rock-star thing to say.”
While Reed attended SU, he met his mentor and spirit guide, Delmore Schwartz. DeCurtis said the renowned poet’s work and conversations had a profound impact on Lou’s own perception of himself as an artist.
“I think Saul Bellow once called Delmore the ‘Mozart of conversation’ and I think Lou really responded to that aspect of Delmore,” DeCurtis said. “He once said Delmore was ‘writing out loud,’ but writing out loud was kind of I think Lou felt he was doing with his songs.”
Throughout the discussion with DeCurtis at SU, the concept of Reed considering himself a writer before a musician was a recurring theme. In a listening session filled with students enrolled in Prof. Theo Cateforis‘ rock music history course, HOM 378, DeCurtis unfolded Reed’s characters within “Take a Walk on the Wild Side” to further illustrate the idea.
DeCurtis explained he ultimately wrote his book to render Reed in the same way the singer-songwriter composed his music, with truth and a three-dimensional understanding of the world.
“I wanted to get across why anybody would care,” DeCurtis said, “and that’s about the music and the words.”