“A Shakespearean panoply of characters”: Lou Reed: Caught between the twisted stars–An annotated bibliography

© Mick Rock, 1972/2021

The main entrance to the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts’s exhibition Lou Reed: Caught between the twisted stars opens up on Lincoln Plaza, directly adjacent to the The Metropolitan Opera house. On a sunny day, the Met’s angular, august facade reflects light beams that seem lightyears away from the intransigent, transgressive spirit, the championing of misfits, the sardonic humor that the exhibit captures and that Reed’s music embodies. Is there a psychogeographic contradiction between the outside buildings’ shimmering, safe, highbrow sheen and the sounds and images purveyed by the avant-garde prince (or pauper?) of New York proto-punk? If so, it is an incongruity to revel in.

Reed’s music and poetry disrupted reductive divisions between the cultivated and vernacular, the concert hall and the streets, and the transcendent and ephemeral. His sounds rejected the colorful and optimistic 1960s utopian collective, the normative middle-class assumptions that homogenized gender distinctions and human sexuality, and the blind eye cast towards a drug-fueled urban underclass. This rebellious spirit runs through his creative work and the eclectic literary and sonic sources on which he drew to craft his own sound(scapes). One finds this eclecticism refracted everywhere in the ethnic mosaic of New York City, whether on the Upper West Side in 2022, or the Lower East Side in the 1960s and 1970s. The NYC mosaic—a metaphor that’s preferable to “melting pot”, which fails to grasp the historical resonance of ethnically similar people living together in specific neighborhoods—is captured in the form of the exhibit. It eschews strict narrative construction of Reed’s life, offering instead a constellated, interconnected network of images, recordings, friendships, interests, collaborators, writings, and technologies. The visitor is invited to take a free (as in gratis) journey that may nourish the inquisitive iconoclast within.

Not only Reed, but also his friends and collaborators, become the “twisted stars” through which one navigates in the exhibit. And what could be more appropriate? Reed’s New York was a particular moment in U.S. music history when “highbrow” avant-garde Western art music walked arm-in-arm with minimalist “lowbrow” sensibilities in some streams of rock that would birth punk. The two camps’ common language was seeped in discourses of ingenuity, novelty, and rupture, and whether or not musicians in each directly influenced one another, ideas (musical and otherwise), were undoubtedly exchanged. Laurie Anderson‘s description—equally applicable to her husband, the real people featured in his lyrics, and some of his collaborators—is perhaps best: “a Shakespearean panoply of characters, and they were all New Yorkers“. Beyond New York, Reed’s artistic orbit spanned disciplines, styles, and perspectives: John Cale, Iggy Pop, David Bowie, Allen Ginsberg, Robert Wilson, Julian Schnabel, Hal Willner, Andy Warhol, Candy Darling, Little Joe, Doug Yule, Metallica, “Moe” Tucker, Sterling Morrison, Nico, William S. Burroughs, Paul McCartney, to name some.

Lou Reed is indexed in over 280 records across RILM Abstracts of Music Literature and RILM Abstracts of Music Literature with Full Text—the sources from which the bibliography below is taken—and has two entries in RILM Music Encyclopedias (in Das Gothic- und Dark Wave-Lexikon: Das Lexikon der schwarzen Szene and the Algemene muziek encyclopedie). Additionally, information on Reed, his collaborators, and related topics (such as literature, poetry, the NYC downtown scene, visual arts, film, recording techniques, and more) can be found in several reference texts in RME, as well as in MGG Online. Links to some of these sources have been embedded into this introduction. But in the end, this bibliography is by necessity a superficial treatment of what can be said and has been said on Reed and his career, as well as on what can be found in RILM’s resources.

What follows below more or less replicates the organizing structure of the exhibit, beginning with Reed’s work in The Velvet Underground and his collaboration with Cale and Warhol, followed by emphasis on his literary interests and poetry, which then leads into his solo productions of the 1970s (especially Metal machine music) and beyond, and ends with Reed as a subject (e.g., an interviewee, a listener with a wide range of interests, a human with a sense of humor). The reader, then, may use this blog entry to supplement and elaborate the experience of attending the exhibit (open until 4 March 2023) in person.

Reed’s music has attracted attention from musicologists (e.g., a 2016 special issue on The Velvet Underground published in Rock music studies), music theorists, music journalists (most notoriously Lester Bangs), theologians, literary theorists, and many others working in other music and music-adjacent fields, and this is reflected in some of the sources you’ll find in this bibliography. The writers of these texts are themselves a motley crew in all the best possible ways, and they reveal the enormous impact that Reed continues to make on musicians, researchers, teachers, and explorer-outcasts of all stripes around the world.

– Written and compiled by Michael Lupo, Assistant Editor/Marketing & Media, RILM

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Main entrance to the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts

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The exhibit begins with what is perhaps the most famous context for Reed’s production: his time as co-founder, songwriter, vocalist, and guitarist of The Velvet Underground.

Image posted by Wilson Bilkovich
  • Bockris, Victor and Gerard Malanga. Up-tight: The Velvet Underground story (New York: Quill, 1983). [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, 1983-7587]

Abstract: Presents an in-depth history of the Velvet Underground from the pre-VU activities of band members up through the Exploding Plastic Inevitable tour and the four seminal albums. Although the band was an outright commercial failure at the time, they are now recognized as one of the key catalysts in the development of rock music, especially as progenitors of punk rock and postpunk. Substantial portions of the book reproduce interviews with the four founding members of the Velvet Underground (Lou Reed, John Cale, Maureen Tucker, and Sterling Morrison) and with key associates such as Nico, Andy Warhol, and members of the Factory.

  • Bouchard, Marie-Ève. “Andy Warhol et le Velvet Underground: Réalité ou reconstruction de la réalité?”, Les cahiers de la Société Québécoise de Recherche en Musique III/1–2 (septembre 1999) 51–62. [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature with Full Text, 1999-38064]

Abstract: Describes how reality is expressed in the New York underground scene in the 1960s, as epitomized by Andy Warhol’s Factory. The world of the Factory is detailed, and the relationship between Andy Warhol and The Velvet Underground is explored. The Velvet Underground incorporated elements of the Warhol Factory in their music, and in the song I’m waiting for the man composed by Lou Reed, in particular. An analysis of the song’s text and music is undertaken to demonstrate how it conforms to the reality of the Factory and the New York City underground.

  • Cuesta, Stan. Lou Reed, The Velvet Underground, John Cale, Nico (Paris: Layeur, 2019). [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, 2019-21973]

Abstract: The Velvet Underground had an amazing destiny. In the 1960s, in the wake of Andy Warhol, avant-garde artist, provocateur, and way ahead of his time, they had no success at all! But, as Brian Eno said, although almost nobody bought their records when they were released, the people who did all later formed their own groups. The band steadily attracted more and more imitators, especially in punk, and is now recognized as one of the most enduringly influential groups in rock history. The recordings of the Velvet Underground are analyzed: the group only released four albums during its brief existence, though myriad records came out after they broke up: live, never-released, and other pirate recordings which achieved official status. After 1970, the three principal members of the group embarked on incredibly fertile solo careers, which are discussed chronologically.

  • Dorin, Stéphane. Velvet underground: La Factory de Warhol et l’invention de la bohème pop (Paris: Éditions des Archives Contemporaines, 2016). [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, 2016-28124]

Abstract: Between 1965 and 1967 with its first album The Velvet Underground & Nico (1967), The Velvet Underground evolved from a promising underground New York band into a legend of rock history. This pivotal period for the group that installed itself in the Factory was equally so for Andy Warhol, who was for a short while its patron and manager. Warhol’s yearning to achieve the alchemical transformation of rock into art through his collaboration with Lou Reed and the Velvet Underground was always balanced on the razor’s edge between sub-cultural marginality and social and commercial recognition within the realm of contemporary art and rock. Although it did not completely shake up the classical and popular art and music worlds, it did blur their boundaries and give rise to one of the most beautiful myths of 20th-century American culture, and to a rock group which attained cult status. Using the conceptual tools of cultural studies and cultural sociology, an analysis of the life and experience of the band at the center of the Factory reveals how rock and art have transformed today’s lifestyles and relationship to work, from the standpoint of the pop aesthetic.

  • Heylin, Clinton. All yesterdays’ parties: The Velvet Underground in print 1966–1971 (Cambridge: Da Capo, 2005). [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, 2005-18301]

Abstract: The Velvet Underground (VU) are among the most influential bands of all time. Their trademark sound is easily detected in David Bowie, Iggy Pop, Talking Heads, R.E.M., Jane’s Addiction, Yo La Tengo, Luna, and the Strokes, and they are also credited with creating a streetwise, pre-punk sensibility that has become inseparable from the popular image of downtown New York. “Discovered” by Andy Warhol in 1966, the VU—with their original line-up of Lou Reed, John Cale, Sterling Morrison, and Moe Tucker—would soon become the house band of the avant-garde, composing songs simultaneously furious in their abrasiveness and beautiful in their pathos, standing in striking contrast to the prevailing flower power of the era. With such a notorious pedigree, it’s only natural that the story of the VU has become shrouded in myth and hyperbole. Here gathered for the first time are almost all of the published writings contemporary with the band’s existence–from sources as mainstream as the New York times to vanished voices of the counterculture like Crawdaddy!, Oz, Open city, and Fusion. An invaluable snapshot of an era is provided by trailblazing rock writers such as Lester Bangs, Robert Greenfield, Sandy Pearlman, and Paul Williams. With the most complete VU discography assembled to date; a biographical overview by the editor; and photographs, posters, and other visual evocations of the period throughout, a treasure trove of lore is made available for anyone interested in the VU, their roots, and legacy.

A portion of The Velvet Underground section of Lou Reed: Caught between the twisted stars
  • Jovanovic, Rob. Seeing the light: Inside The Velvet Underground (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2012). [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, 2012-3572]

Abstract: Artists including David Bowie, The Sex Pistols, Joy Division, Roxy Music, Nirvana, U2, R.E.M., and even the dissident Czech playwright and eventual president Václav Havel have cited The Velvet Underground as a major influence. Formed by the mercurial Lou Reed and the classically trained Welshman John Cale in the mid-1960s, the band first gained notoriety after being adopted by Andy Warhol. Warhol’s patronage allowed the group to chart unexplored regions of rock ‘n’ roll, producing music that veered from droning, avant-garde experimentalism to folk-infused pop, offering taboo-busting tales of drug addiction, prostitution, and sexual deviance. Creative tensions and frustrated ambition eventually saw both Cale and Reed leave the band, to its ignominious end. In the decades since, The Velvet Underground’s music has attained classic status, revered alongside The Beatles and The Beach Boys as one of the sources of modern pop. New interviews from members Moe Tucker and Doug Yule, as well as the widow of their bandmate Sterling Morrison, reveal the mystique of one of the most important bands in rock history.

Abstract: The author casts an ear back through the musical history of The Velvet Underground legend and brilliant rock musician who recently passed away. Lou Reed saw himself as the bard of New York; the way, he explained, Joyce had Dublin and Faulkner the South, though a sensibility awash in Edgar Allan Poe, Delmore Schwartz, and Nelson Algren produced adolescent renderings of perversion. But he didn’t stop there. Reed’s fictive power acted as a window through which sympathetic parents, heterosexual marriages, and other tenets of the bourgeoisie look as deeply strange as kissing a boot of shiny, shiny leather. If rock critics remain as obsessed with lyrics as they ever were, Reed deserves the blame as much as Dylan. But what’s astonishing about those Velvet Underground records is the success with which their musical correlatives complement if not overwhelm the lyrics. For instance, Venus in furs, the ode to sadomasochism from the band’s first album, is sexy and thrilling and wondrous in ways that have little to do with the ooh-scary libretto. Listen as those Byrds-y guitars slam against the single note that John Cale saws off his viola, while “Moe” Tucker bangs a kick drum; when Cale actually plays chords on the bridge the song sounds as tired and weary as Reed himself.

  • Warner, Simon. “La banalité de la dégradation: Andy Warhol, le Velvet Underground et l’esthétique trash”, Volume! La revue des musiques populaires IX/1 (2012) 51-65. [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature with Full Text, 2012-15874]

Abstract: The American 1960s has become closely associated with moral crusades that strove for Civil Rights for the Black community and protested against the conflict in Vietnam, and with the peace and love gestures of the hippies, particularly in the latter part of the decade. However, the seeds of a more subversive underground movement were sown during the period, and a new approach to art creation, centered on an emerging trash aesthetic, not only challenged the psychedelic utopianism of the counterculture but actually left a longer lasting mark on left-field creative activity in the final quarter of the century. As Andy Warhol’s art and film projects were reshaped into multimedia experiences, the importance of the Velvet Underground, the rising house band at the artist’s Factory headquarters, was magnified. The Exploding Plastic Inevitable, a performance work inspired in part by early-decade Happenings, would be unveiled in 1966, combining Warhol’s underground cinema projections, light shows, dancers, and the cacophonous sound of the Velvets. This radical piece of stage art was filmed by the director Ronald Nameth, and his account remains a key document of the live venture. While Warhol and the band built on traditions from Dada to the Beats to build a form of anti-art, it was during this time that the aesthetic of trash took shape, from the Pop Art celebrations of mass cultural forms to the darker realms of drugs and sexual perversity. This anti-aesthetic would have an enduring impact in the years that followed, beyond the subterranean avant-garde of New York City, as music, cinema, art, and literature were all shaped by this brand of expression. An English translation is abstracted as RILM 2014-3712.

  • Willis, Ellen. “Velvet underground: Golden archive series”, Stranded: Rock and roll for a desert island, ed. by Greil Marcus (New York: Da Capo, 1996) 71–83. [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, 1996-3327]

Abstract: Ostensibly an essay on her desert island album—a slightly Willis-doctored version of an existing Velvet Underground anthology released in 1970 (she switches out Afterhours for Pale blue eyes)—this piece serves as more of a general essay on the band and even Lou Reed’s post-VU work. Willis situates all sides of the band into a larger framework that accounts for detachment, innocence, irony, and, most unusual in writings on the Velvets, moral responsibility. As she sees it, there’s an intended irony in their emotional distance—a straddling of the rock ‘n’ roller as aesthete and the rock ‘n’ roller as punk. Their stance is self-critical and even in danger of being internally undermined: “The risk is real because the Velvets do not use irony as a net, a way of evading responsibility by keeping everyone guessing what they really mean. On the contrary, their irony functions as a metaphor for the spiritual paradox, affirming that the need to face one’s nakedness and the impulse to cover it up are equally real, equally human”.

Although strained at times, Reed’s relationship with the vanguardist John Cale was incredibly fruitful. Moreover, it encouraged a complex and perhaps erroneous dichotomy between highbrow and lowbrow sensibilities, which surfaced in different guises throughout Reed’s career.

  • Gibson, Dylan Lawrence. “Postmodernism in Lou Reed and Metallica’s collaborative album Lulu: The subjective perception of highbrow and lowbrow“, Metal music studies V/2 (2019) 187–200. [RILM Abstracts of Music of Literature with Full Text, 2019-5761]

Abstract: The 2011 collaborative album Lulu (by Lou Reed and Metallica) presents one with what can be clearly identified as a clash between highbrow and lowbrow culture. This clash, as demonstrated in this article, attempts to blur what the media tries to enforce by revealing that Metallica and Lou Reed in actuality cannot be exclusively defined by one coherent label. The intended implication is that the album should not be dismissed as its impact, as Metallica’s first postmodern album, ought to be remembered and formally recognized as such—a postmodern experimental metal album.

  • Gracyk, Theodore. “What goes on: The double-bind of theorizing rock”, Literature and psychology XLIV/3 (1998)1–22. [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, 1999-32628]

Abstract: Theorizing about rock is difficult because intellectuals trained in the values of high culture have not found a way to approach popular music on its own terms. In addition, rock music is often assumed to be incapable of incorporating the values of high culture. The career of Lou Reed of The Velvet Underground demonstrates how a rock musician can include tradition and morality in his work, drawing on both high and low culture. The views of the cultural critics John Fiske and Martha Bayles are also examined.

  • Sangild, Torben. “Flossede nerver: Støj og avantgardisme hos Velvet Underground”, Loaded: Om The Velvet Underground, Lou Reed, John Cale, Nico, ed. by Klaus Lynggaard and Henrik Queitsch (København: Information, 2004) 64–70. [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, 2004-10893]

Abstract: The link between The Velvet Underground and the avant-garde art music world was established by John Cale, a classically trained composer and viola player active in the vanguardist scene of John Cage and associates. Together with Lou Reed they developed an aesthetic alternating between intense noise and otherworldy ambience on albums such as White light/White heat. Lou Reed pushed this aesthetic further than it had ever been taken in popular music with his album Metal machine music. With their avant-noise innovations, The Velvet Underground were a key inspiration for the post-punk of the 1970s and 1980s.

  • Zak, Albin J., III., ed. The Velvet Underground companion: Four decades of commentary (New York: G. Schirmer, 1997). [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, 1997-8762]

Abstract: A collection of articles, reviews, and essays on the influential avant-garde rock band made up of John Cale, Lou Reed, Maureen Tucker, Sterling Morrison, guest vocalist Nico, and Doug Yule in the band’s final incarnation. Interviews with and memoirs by band members are included.

The exhibit includes multiple stations for listening to Reed’s music. One example, now available on vinyl as Words & music, May 1965, is a reel-to-reel tape that Reed sent to himself, likely as a “poor man’s copyright”. It contains a number of acoustic demos with Cale, some of which would develop into VU songs.

The package containing Reed’s 1965 demos. Canal Street Communications
  • Peraino, Judith A. “I’ll be your mixtape: Lou Reed, Andy Warhol, and the queer intimacies of cassettes”, The journal of musicology: A quarterly review of music history, criticism, analysis, and performance practice XXXVI/4 (fall 2019) 401–436. [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, 2019-9699]

Abstract: Tells the story of a cassette tape housed in the Andy Warhol Museum archives, a set of never-released (and rarely heard) songs by Lou Reed, and the tape’s intended audience: Andy Warhol. Warhol and Reed are giant figures in the history of 20th-century pop art and popular music, and their collaboration from 1966 to 1967 resulted in the acclaimed album The Velvet Underground & Nico. Based on extensive archival research and interviews, I discuss how this tape reflects Warhol’s and Reed’s failed attempt to collaborate on a stage version of Reed’s album Berlin (1973); Reed’s reaction to Warhol’s book, The philosophy of Andy Warhol (from A to B and back again) (1975); and how elements of Warhol’s own audio aesthetics and taping practices find their way into Reed’s recordings around 1975. I also place this cassette in the context of the emerging common practice of creating and gifting homemade mixtapes of curated music, and demonstrate how such mixtapes function as a type of “closet media” (to quote theater scholar Nick Salvato) marked by private audience, disappearance, and inaccessibility. Drawing on William S. Burroughs’s conceptual spliced-tape experiments and their challenge to unified subjectivity, I explore the epistemological and ontological ramifications of sonically entangling the self with another person, and the queer intimacies of doing so on cassette tape.

Perhaps Reed’s “lyrics and poetry were kind of one and the same” (Don Fleming). In the early 1970s, in the direct aftermath of the VU, Reed follows a path towards literature and writing poetry.

  • Morris, Daniel. “Whose life is saved by rock and roll? An essay on the lyrics of Lou Reed”, Popular music and society XVI/3 (fall 1992) 23–30. [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, 1992-4611]

Abstract: Reed’s lyrics are the work of a surreal, imagistic poet whose announced purpose is to chronicle public life in New York. His desire to embody the city through the description of a representative life diminished rather than enhanced the scope and quality of his writing over time. In lyrics from 1967, 1969, and 1989, Reed wrote a genuine public poetry by focusing his gaze with empathy and identification on the pain of others living on the margins of visibility. His best writing stems from an impersonal, Whitmanesque impulse to register the value of lives on the margin and not from the self-absorption that characterized his writing from 1972 on.

  • Rae, Casey. William S. Burroughs and the cult of rock ‘n’ roll (Austin: University of Texas Press, 2019). [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, 2019-12562]

Abstract: William S. Burroughs’s fiction and essays are legendary, but his influence on music’s counterculture has been less well documented. Examining how one of America’s most controversial literary figures altered the destinies of many notable and varied musicians, this book reveals the transformations in music history that can be traced to Burroughs. A heroin addict and a gay man, Burroughs rose to notoriety outside the conventional literary world; his masterpiece, Naked lunch, was banned on the grounds of obscenity, but its nonlinear structure was just as daring as its content. The book examines Burroughs’s parallel rise to fame among daring musicians of the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s, when it became a rite of passage to hang out with the author or to experiment with his cut-up techniques for producing revolutionary lyrics (as the Beatles and Radiohead did). Whether they tell of him exploring the occult with David Bowie, providing Lou Reed with gritty depictions of street life, or counseling Patti Smith about coping with fame, the stories of Burroughs’s backstage impact will transform the way we see the U.S.’s cultural revolution and how we hear its music.

Metal machine music

Lou Reed holding a copy of Metal Machine Music, Paris, 19 September 1996. Photograph: Lou Reed Papers, Music & Recorded Sound Division, The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts
  • Dault, David. “To the void: Karl Barth, Yvves Klein, and Lou Reed’s Metal machine music“, Secular music and sacred theology, ed. by Tom Beaudoin (Collegeville: Liturgical Press, 2013) 3–15. [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, 2013-2033]

Abstract: This chapter juxtaposes the music of Lou Reed with the theology of Karl Barth and the art of Yves Klein, so as to show how all three artists create works that try to name what exceeds naming. The ancient theological question of whether God can be comprehended in human turns is turned into a triptych of rock and roll, theology, and visual art, all trying to let that which is profoundly other appear through their respective mediums.

  • Moore, Thurston. “Towards a sonic machine music”, Lou Reed, Metal Machine Trio: The creation of the universe, ed. by Christopher Scoates (Bloomfield Hills: Cranbrook Art Museum, 2015) 63. [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, 2015-19624]

Abstract: Personal recollections of the guitarist and founding member of Sonic Youth on his encounter with Lou Reed’s Metal machine music (1975), particularly the way in which the seminal album validated feedback as a compositional element.

Metal machine music LP viewable at Lou Reed: Caught between the twisted stars
  • Spelman, Nicola. “Recasting noise: The lives and times of Metal machine music“, Resonances: Noise and contemporary music, ed. by Michael Goddard, Benjamin Halligan, and Nicola Spelman (New York: Bloomsbury, 2013) 24–36. [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, 2013-6206]

Abstract: Many of Lou Reed’s fans purchased his double-album Metal machine music (1975) assuming its contents to be of a similar ilk to his previous albums. With limited pre-listening opportunities, they were effectively lured into an auditory experience few were prepared for. Thus followed an unprecedented number of album returns and the record’s withdrawal just three weeks later. Although many accounts of the album’s unpalatable nature rest on attempts to describe its arresting sonic properties, the discrete sounds and techniques of timbral manipulation explored with MMM (heavy distortion, feedback, amplifier hum, use of tremolo units, varied tape speed, EQ, reverb and tone controls) were already standard fare by the time of its conception and release. As such, the distinctly experimental aspects of Reed’s noisescape are located not within the sounds themselves, but rather in how and where they were presented, and in the way they were creatively and unconventionally employed. Here, through examination of the original album and its subsequent transformations—moving from recorded composition to score/arrangement and finally to an improvised performance exploring the compositional techniques used in the construction of the original work—an attempt is made to pinpoint shifts in perception resulting from this successive recasting of noise.

  • Steintrager, James A. “Metal machines, primal screams, horrible noise, and the faint hum of a paradigm shift in sound studies and sonic practice”, Musica humana III/1 (spring 2011) 121–151. [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature with Full Text, 2011-10305]

Abstract: In the mid-1970s there emerged both in pop music practice and in theoretical discourse a paradigm that extended liberating, ecstatic value to noise. For noise in practice, Lou Reed’s LP Metal machine music has been cited as seminal; in theory, Jacques Attali’s Noise: The political economy of music (see RILM 1977-1976 for the original French version; the first English translation is cited as RILM 1985-7455) stands out. Both of these important moments, however, have deep and often complex genealogies. Moreover, once we grasp the historical constitution of the noise paradigm, we can better understand why and how the promise of liberating noise—noise as revolutionary violence or subjectivity-shattering ecstasy—has in recent sound theory been treated as an unnecessarily limiting discursive trap. This has been most emphatically the case with Michel Chion’s suggested abandonment of the concept of noise as pseudo-scientific and roughly ideological. This abandonment, moreover, has been echoed in sonic practice—in the onkyō scene in Japan, for example—where an emphasis on subtle sound processing, gently modulated feedback, and bare audibility have put into question the relevance of noise as previously conceived and produced.

And then there was more Reed solo…with a little help from his friends

Reed’s live performance TV concept on display in the Lous Reed: Caught between the twisted stars
  • Furman, Ezra. Transformer. 33 1/3 (New York: Bloomsbury, 2018). [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, 2018-6807]

Abstract: Lou Reed’s most enduringly popular album is described with varying labels: it’s often called a glam rock album, a proto-punk album, a commercial breakthrough for Lou Reed, and an album about being gay. And yet, it doesn’t neatly fit into any of these descriptors. Buried underneath the radio-friendly exterior lie coded confessions of the subversive, wounded intelligence that gives this album its staying power as a work of art. Here Lou Reed managed to make a fun, accessible record that is also a troubled meditation on the ambiguities—sexual, musical, and otherwise—that defined his public persona and helped make him one of the most fascinating and influential figures in rock history. Through close listening and personal reflections, the author explores Reed’s unstable identities and the secrets the songs challenge us to uncover.

  • Thompson, Dave. Your pretty face is going to hell: The dangerous glitter of David Bowie, Iggy Pop, and Lou Reed (New York: Backbeat Books, 2009). [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, 2009-8003]

Abstract: Sketches the intertwining, outrageous lives of three rock legends. When Lou Reed and Iggy Pop first met David Bowie in the fall of 1971, Bowie was just another English musician passing through New York City. Reed was still recovering from the collapse of the Velvet Underground, and Iggy Pop had already been branded a loser. Yet within two years they completely changed the face of popular music with a decadent glamour and street-level vibe. With Bowie producing, Reed’s Transformer album was a worldwide hit, spinning off the sleazy street anthem “Walk on the wild side”. Iggy’s Raw power, mixed by Bowie, provided the mean-spirited, high-octane blueprint for punk rock. Bowie boosted elements from both Iggy and Reed to create his gender-bending rock idol alter-ego Ziggy Stardust. Here, the story of these friendships, and the musical productivity and rock star debauchery that emerged from their three-fold alliance is told—a triple helix of sexuality, glam rock, and drugs as seen through the eyes of the people who made it happen.

And Lou Reed the humorist

Lou Reed performing at the Hop Farm Music Festival on Saturday, 2 July 2011
  • Hamelman, Steven. “‘I never said I was tasteful’: Lou Reed and the classic philosophy of humor”, The Routledge companion to popular music and humor, ed. by Thomas M. Kitts and Nick Baxter-Moore. Routledge music companions (New York: Routledge, 2019) 177–185. [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, 2019-12616]

Abstract: Lou Reed is rarely considered a humorist. Yet, the author identifies the humorous impulse in Reed, which he sees as dry and ironic, raunchy and tasteless, and dark and cynical. He draws on the three main theories of humor (superiority, incongruity, and relief) to explicate songs like Dirt and The gift, Reed’s laughter at the end of the original recording of Heroin, and his on-stage monologues.

  • _____. “Why is this man laughing?”, Rock music studies III/2 (2016) 180–191. [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, 2016-25331]

Abstract: There is a good deal of humor, from dry and ironical to raunchy and tasteless, in the music and live monologues of Lou Reed, both as a member of The Velvet Underground and as a solo artist. To examine Reed’s wide-ranging humor in terms of the three major categories comprising the philosophy of humor (superiority theory, incongruity theory, and relief theory) is to appreciate the nuances of a rock humorist who could at one point be heard laughing at the end of a song about heroin’s destructiveness and at another point delivering a scathing but hilarious attack on well-known rock journalists who annoyed him. As this analysis demonstrates, the diversity of tone, subject matter, and manner of delivery of Reed’s humor reflects an artist who satisfied, in terms defined as much by courage as by literary skill, the three classic divisions of humor, suggesting that despite his reputation for writing dark and often cynical songs about taboo topics, Lou Reed enjoyed hearing the sound of laughter, sometimes his own, when he gave free expression to his comic genius.

Interviews

Lou Reed: Caught between the twisted stars: Reed in TV interviews
  • Reed, Lou. Lou Reed: The last interview and other conversations (Brooklyn: Melville House, 2015). [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, 2015-81311]

Abstract: A revealing collection of interviews with one of the greatest artists in the history of rock ’n’ roll—as brilliant, punchy, and blustery as the man himself. In this collection of interviews given over 30 years, including his final interview, Lou Reed oscillates between losing patience with his interviewers (he was famous for walking out on them) and sharing profound observations on the human experience, especially as he reflects on poetry and novels, the joy of live performances, and the power of sound. In conversation with legendary rock critics and authors he respected, Reed’s interviews are as pithy and brilliant as the man himself.

Reed’s album collection at Lou Reed: Caught between the twisted stars, including several bootlegs of his performances, zines, and TV interviews

Finally, take a listen to some of the music that Reed liked in “Listen Like Lou Did”, a playlist curated by NYPL.

And definitely take a second to get what is surely the coolest, most New York, free library card that has ever existed.

Special Edition Lou Reed NYPL library card

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Esoteric orchestration

Gérard Encausee (Papus)

Aligned with the Symbolists, Camille Mauclair considered the orchestra a transposed symbol of the emotions in nature and cited Wagner’s music as an outstanding realization of this concept.

Although he was a staunch Positivist who attacked the Symbolists, Ange-Marie Auzende described the symbolic qualities of instruments and considered the orchestra a mirror of the soul. Ernestine-André van Hasselt wrote for popular audiences, characterizing instruments as expressing or even embodying various personalities and psychological states.

In the 1894 pamphlet Anatomie et physiologie de l’orchestre, co-authored by the popular occult writer Gérard Encausee (writing under his esoteric pseudonym Papus) and the young Frederick Delius, the four instrumental groups—strings, brass, woodwinds, and percussion—were associated respectively with God, the head, and the nervous system; man, the chest, and the arterial system; woman, the chest, and the venous system; and nature, the abdomen, and the lymphatic system.

Further subdivisions and associations were outlined in preparation for a larger prescriptive work for composers that never materialized.

This according to “Sound as symbol: Fin de siècle perceptions of the orchestra” by Eric Frederick Jensen (The music review LV/3 [August 1994] pp. 227–240; RILM Abstracts of Music Literature 1996-16688).

Above, Papus in the back room of the Librairie du Merveilleux ca. 1890; below, the opening of Delius’s Appalachia from 1896, perhaps an example of his application of such theories.

Related article: F, the keynote of nature

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Filed under Curiosities, Romantic era

Uncracking the Nutcracker

Photo from the original 1892 production of “Nutcracker” showing Varvara Nikitina as the Sugar Plum Fairy and Pavel Gerdt as the Cavalier.

Although the place of Ŝelkunčik (Nutcracker) in the hearts of today’s audiences is secure, its genesis hardly seemed auspicious.

Čajkovskij repeatedly sought to abandon work on the project, and complained bitterly about it to the Director of Imperial Theaters; the reasons why he begged to be released from it, or why he ultimately persevered, remain unknown.

The problems probably involved the libretto, which the fastidious composer may well have found vexing. Parts of it lack any rationale, the balance of mime and dance is lopsided, and the overall arc of the story is incoherent, with several essential plot elements entirely missing.

These issues can be resolved by rendering most of the ballet as Drosselmayer’s thoughts rather than Clara’s dream. One can easily imagine the composer taking delight in this solution.

This according to “On meaning in Nutcracker” by Roland John Wiley (Dance research III/1 (fall 1984) 3–28; RILM Abstracts of Music Literature 1984-12142).

Today is the 130th anniversary of Nutcracker‘s premiere!

Below, part I of Mark Morris’s approach, which he called The hard nut.

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Filed under Curiosities, Dance, Romantic era

Luiz Gonzaga and traditional ecological knowledge

The Brazilian recording star Luiz Gonzaga made a career of singing about the drought-plagued northeastern Brazil countryside, where he is still revered as emblematic of the region.

For individuals who predict the weather based on natural patterns in the northeastern backlands, Gonzaga’s music continues to lend credibility, clarity, and local significance to the practice known as rain prophecy.

For example, his Acauã clearly conveys the meaning of the laughing falcon’s cry for the region’s inhabitants: it augurs and “invites” drought. “In the joy of the rainy season/sing the river frog, the tree frog, the toad/but in the sorrow of drought/you hear only the acauã.” The song ends with Gonzaga mimicking the bird’s call, evoking a sound that arouses powerful emotions in the region’s inhabitants.

When northeastern rain prophets cite Gonzaga’s songs, they add credibility to their own expertise, framing it in a context that most Brazilians can comprehend. Enhanced by his national fame and legendary status, Gonzaga’s voice continues to play a significant role in the maintenance of traditional ecological knowledge.

This according to “Birdsong and a song about a bird: Popular music and the mediation of traditional ecological knowledge in northeastern Brazil” by Michael B. Silvers (Ethnomusicology LIX/3 [fall 2015] 380–97).

Today is Gonzaga’s 110th birthday! Above, Gonzaga performing in the traditional costume of the northeastern rancheiros, in 1957 (Arquivo Nacional, public domain); below, his 1952 recording of Acauã.

BONUS: Gonzaga performs Acauã in a film intended for television broadcast. In his introduction he compares the local significance of the laughing falcon’s call with that of the purple-throated euphonia, which heralds rain.

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Filed under Animals, Curiosities, Popular music, South America

Barry & Claire Brook’s excellent incipit adventure

The practice of using music incipits for identifying compositions occupies an important place among the many musicological research tools that Barry S. Brook conceived. “The thematic index derives its superiority over non-thematic lists because it can not only arrange a body of music in a systematic order,” he wrote, “but it provides, at the same time, positive identification in a minimum of space and symbols. It does so by the use of the incipit, or musical citation of the opening notes. For most music, an incipit of no more than a dozen pitches is required. When rhythmic values accompany the pitches, the incipit’s uniqueness quotient is astonishingly high” (Notes, 29/3, 1973).

He promoted this idea through the publication of facsimile editions of The Breitkopf thematic calagoue (1967) and The Ringmacher catalogue (1773; 1987); he organized the index to his edition The symphony, 1720–1840 (1986) in the form of a thematic catalogue; and he published the definitive catalogue of thematic catalogues (1973; 2nd ed. 1997). In 1970 he made a proposal for his Plaine and Easie Code, a computer-readable coding system for music incipits in modern or mensural notation, and when RISM initiated the cataloguing of manuscripts in the A/II series he was a strong advocate for the inclusion of the incipit in the bibliographic description of each work.

Brook’s enthusiasm for incipits was sparked when he was writing his dissertation in Paris. His daily correspondence of 1958/59 with his wife Claire—whom he married only a few months before the trip to France—was full of notated incipits for works that he mentioned in his work, La symphonie française dans la seconde moitié du XVIIIe siècle, and she patiently copied them and organized them in the thematic finder to be included with the final dissertation. His system of organizing incipits was a response to the index of eighteenth-century compositions that Jan LaRue was working on at the time, and the Dictionary of musical themes by Sam Morgenstern and Harold Barlow, both of which he found unsatisfactory.

In February of 1959 he told Claire in a letter about his thoughts for organizing the index:

“I think it will be number of #’s + ♭’s, with minor in with the majors since in some instances it is not immediately apparent from incipit if it is in minor; then subdivided into 2/4, 3/44/4, 3+6/8; then in alphabetical order note by note. If you run into LaRue you might ask him to explain his system—or even better ask him how he would do it if he were to start all over again….Then there is that crazy suggestion of Chailley, which he put very strongly, to transpose all themes into C and list them by letters alphabetically. — Take a look at appendix of Morgenstern-Barlow Dictionary of musical themes that we have and you’ll see what he wants. This looks like another big job for you. 

e.g. EFGGGGGGGGABGBA = Gossec #1
        GCCDGDDEGEEF = Gossec #2
        CDCGCDE♭F = Gossec #3” (15 February 1959).

A week later Barry returned to the topic and again asked Claire to have a talk with LaRue about how his finding system works, and whether or not he counted grace notes in alphabetizing. As LaRue was at the time still collecting incipits for his thematic identifier, he warned Claire not to reveal all that he was doing: “A little birdie keeps tweeting me about what Chailley said about keeping everything (i.e. finds) under wraps until after the thèse” (21 February 1959).

As Barry studied scores in Parisian libraries, he found more works that needed to be included in the finding aid for his thèse, and more incipits were included in his trans-Atlantic letters to Claire. Almost every letter he sent her in the late winter and spring of 1959 included a few handwritten incipits, a new consideration about their ordering, or a question about this or that detail.

A page of incipits sent to Claire on 14 March.

Replies from Claire included “just finished cutting a complete set of corrected insipids [sic], wrapped, stored, and next set ready to go” (19 April 1959), and “I refused to allow myself to sit down and write to you until the thematic index was cut and packed for mailing. A sort of external discipline—childish but effective. Just finished tying the string and lettering in the beloved name of my husband, and here I am” (27 March 1959). It seems that Claire worked on his dissertation in New York as hard as Barry did in Paris! It is impressive to see how they worked together on the intricate project of organizing the musical index of incipits, without having instant messaging, a possibility of online conversations in real time, and any other benefit of communications that we take for granted today.

At one point he was frustrated with difficulties in sorting incipits, and described to Claire his idea about an incipit box. Claire was confused by his eccentric idea and asked him to describe his concept better. In his second attempt he drew the design of the box along with his explanation of the concept: “Incipits are arranged in order in the box like file cards in a filing box or fiches in a fichier. Only the box is very flat—just high enough for the incipits to stand up in” (24 March 1959). As the deadline for submitting the dissertation was approaching fast, there was no time for constructing the box.

Brook’s drawing of the incipit box.

On 29 June the thesis—which included some 60 pages of incipits in addition to some 800 items that converted incipits to alphanumeric strings—was “delivered to [Jacques] Chailley at 5:30 in the afternoon”. This might have been one of the earliest dissertations that included such an extensive catalogue of incipits. A week after it was delivered, Claire landed in Paris for their belated honeymoon.

Above, one of Barry and Claire Brook’s wedding photographs from June 1958.

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Filed under From the archives, Musicologists, Musicology

Little Richard, “Architect of Rock & Roll”

“Little” Richard Wayne Penniman burst onto the American scene in 1955 with his mega-hit Tutti frutti, and went on to write the anti-rules and pour the concrete for the foundation of a new musical art form.

Dubbing himself “The Architect of Rock & Roll,” Little Richard had an incalculable impact on musicians and singers black and white with his wild, flamboyant performances and outrageous costumes, which included sequined tuxedos, velvet capes, pancake make-up, eyeliner, and a six-inch pompadour hairdo.

He was one of the first artists to make the androgynous look popular, and his influence could be experienced in the music and performances of Mick Jagger, The Beatles, Jerry Lee Lewis, Elvis Presley, James Brown, Jimi Hendrix, and David Bowie—who all cited him as their inspiration.

But Little Richard also had demons he struggled with throughout his career: his complicated relationship with his sexual orientation, and its effect on his faith. He left secular music 18 months after his first hit to sing “for the Lord” in an effort to suppress his homosexuality; but four years later he was back on stage in London with The Beatles as his opening act, shaking his hips and singing Tutti frutti, a song that originated as a testament to gay sex.

This according to Awop bop aloo mop: Little Richard—A life of sex, drugs, rock & roll…and religion by Tina Andrews (New York: The Malibu Press, 2020; RILM Abstracts of Music Literature 2020-55689).

Today is Little Richard’s 90th birthday! Above, an uncredited photo from 1967; below, performing in 1957 (the year John Lennon met Paul McCartney around some of Little Richard’s songs).

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Filed under Performers, Popular music

Louisa May Alcott’s musical leitmotif

Louisa May Alcott effectively depicted collective musical performances to affirm community in Little women; but more significantly, she used music to represent the feminine sphere as she and the culture of her time defined it.

Each sister’s acceptance of or entry into that domain is depicted through scenes of musical performance: “No one but Beth could get much music out of the old piano; but she had a way of softly touching the yellow keys and making a pleasant accompaniment to the simple songs they sang. Meg had a voice like a flute, and she and her mother led the little choir. Amy chirped like a cricket, and Jo wandered through the airs at her own sweet will, always coming out at the wrong place with a croak or a quaver that spoilt the most pensive tune.”

Laurie, the rich boy next door, who is a talented pianist, must take the opposite path on his journey; his attainment of manhood is symbolically represented through the silencing of his musical voice.

In these and more ways, the musical leitmotif in Little Women tells us much about gender roles in American culture and about the limited choices facing both nineteenth-century American women and nineteenth-century American men.

This according to “Music as leitmotif in Louisa May Alcott’s Little women” by Colleen Reardon (Children’s literature XXIV [1996] 74-85; RILM Abstracts of Music Literature 1996-26449).

Today is Alcott’s 190th birthday! Below, Beth’s Christmas scene from the 1994 film.

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Filed under Literature, Women's studies

Charles Schultz and classical music

Having once considered himself “one of the staunchest opponents of classical music”, Charles Schultz discovered the symphonies of Beethoven in 1946 and became an avid fan of classical music with a prodigious record collection. He also created the piano-playing Schroeder, a Beethoven fanatic, for his comic strip Peanuts.

A well-worn 1951 LP in Schultz’s collection by the pianist Friedrich Gulda of Beethoven’s Hammerklavier sonata may have inspired a series of strips from the early 1950s in which Schroeder is seen playing this work. The one reproduced above is the only one in which the piece is named, though it still relies on the reader to read music—and German!—for a full identification. Note Schultz’s imitation of German Fraktur script for both the work title and his signature.

This according to “Michaelis’ Schulz, Schulz’s Beethoven, and the construction of biography” by William Meredith (The Beethoven journal XXV/2 [winter 2008], pp. 79–91; RILM Abstracts of Music Literature 2008-8914).

Today is Schultz’s 100th birthday! Below, Gulda performs the Hammerklavier sonata in 1970.

Related articles: Beethoven in Bibliolore

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Filed under Classic era, Curiosities, Humor, Visual art

Journal of Audiovisual Ethnomusicology

In November 2022 the Society for Ethnomusicology launched the Journal of Audiovisual Ethnomusicology (JAVEM), a bi-annual peer-reviewed streaming journal of ethnomusicological film and video. The journal aims to advance the use of multimedia as a method for exploring music and its entanglements, and as a medium for presenting those explorations.

JAVEM provides a viable public platform for ethnomusicological films. A public-facing venue for film screenings and multimedia installations, it gives scholar-filmmakers opportunities to reach new audiences, engage more diverse stakeholders in research topics and issues, and partner with organizations beyond the academy, building a structure for scholarly engagement with current research, theoretical perspectives, and filmmaking strategies in ethnomusicology and related fields.

Below, Frank Gunderson, one of JAVEM’s founders and co-editors, shares a filmmaking anecdote.

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Filed under Ethnomusicology, New periodicals

Martin Scorsese, DJ and choreographer

Martin Scorsese’s Casino is structured around a compiled score of nearly 60 popular music recordings. Scorsese himself, working with the editor Thelma Schoonmaker and using digital editing tools for the first time, assembled and arranged a diverse body of preexisting music into a unified score that plays for more than two of the film’s three hours.

A close analysis of Scorsese crafting Casino’s compiled score in the manner of a DJ—and, in reciprocal fashion, editing film images and narrative to recorded music—demonstrates highly varied, multivalent relationships between musical form and film form. Indeed, musical form proves a constituent element of Casino’s construction at multiple levels of magnification.

The large-scale form of the score as a whole articulates the larger arc of Casino’s dual narrative. The strategic deployment of musical styles (from jazz to rock to pop) and the targeted use of lyrics as voiceover (often subtly deploying aspects of racial performance in popular styles) serve to differentiate narrative strands and fill out otherwise unspoken characterization.

Scorsese builds several sequences in Casino on a direct, often audible relationship between song forms and narrative unfolding, creating song scenes in which compiled tracks heard as musical wholes grant a musical shape to discrete narrative units. Casino’s complex use of music does not, however, penetrate the inner lives of the film’s three primary characters, who seem unaware of the musical flow Scorsese employs to set their story dancing.

This according to “The filmmaker as DJ: Martin Scorsese’s compiled score for Casino (1995)” by Todd Decker (The journal of musicology XXXIV/2 [spring 2017] 281–317; RILM Abstracts of Music Literature 2017-866).

Today is Scorsese’s 80th birthday!

Above, the director in 1995, the year Casino was released (photo credit: Gorupdebesanez; licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0).

Below, a sequence discussed in the article, which is set so closely to The Rolling Stones’s Can’t you hear me knocking that the recording must have been playing on the set to time the camera moves.

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Filed under Film music