Lou Reed Letter In Yale’s Beinecke Library

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Lou Reed performing at the Hop Farm Music Festival on July 2, 2011. (Wikimedia Commons.)

A 1965 letter from iconic musician Lou Reed, who passed away last week, to poet and author Delmore Schwartz, sits in the Beinecke Library at Yale University.

Beinecke tweeted out word of the letter’s existence on Oct. 28 (see below), urging folks wanting a copy to write in to an email address. An email arrived in my inbox yesterday morning with a copy of the letter. (They even generously waived the normal $7 copying fee because of the huge number of requests.)

Schwartz taught at Syracuse University in the early ’60s and influenced Reed’s writing. He died of a heart-attack at 53 on July 11, 1966 in Greenwich Village, after a tumultuous life of drinking and episodes of erratic behavior. In the typed letter, Reed tells Schwartz about working as a songwriter and musician in New York City, touring on “promotional trips” after recruiting musicians to back him up. “One guy was from Wales,” Reed writes. “He got here on a Leonard Berstein scholorship [sic], a starting viola player.” (John Cale, Reed’s Velvet Underground band-mate, is Welsh.)

Elsewhere, Reed writes about being able to escape the draft, “unacceptable for obvious reasons.” He also writes about how much he hates the music business, even then; “The record industry is viscious [sic] as are most businesses,” Reed writes, “but this one a little more so.” New York City, he continues, has so many “sad, sick people.” Reed mentions he has a knack for meeting those individuals: “They try to drag you down with them. If you’re weak [New York] has many outlets. I can’t resist peering, probing, sometimes participating, other times going right to the edge before sidestepping. Finding viscousness [sic] in yourself and that fantastic killer urge and worse yet having the opportunity presented before you is certainly interesting.”

beinecke tweet

The musician also writes about being happy to be done with school (a Harvard application, he says, has been “sitting for awhile now”). He’s confident about his talent as a writer, and he feels he’ll improve even more “if i work and work.” Though he doesn’t seem to be pulling down much money, he’s pleased with himself for not needing much to be happy. At the end of the letter, before his handwritten signature (he didn’t date it, but it’s said to be from 1965), Reed inquires about his mentor’s failing health.

“I also hope very much that you are my spiritual godfather,” he concludes, “and I mean that quite a bit too.”

Reed’s letter can’t be posted anywhere without the permission of his estate, but you can write to Beinecke for a copy. Nancy Kuhl, curator of poetry at Beinecke’s Yale Collection of American Literature, pasted the letter’s provenence in her email to me, which I’ve reproduced below in full.

“Purchased from Kenneth Schwartz on the E.J. Beinecke Fund, 1975 and 1981; and from Lame Duck Books on the Carl Van Vechten Fund, 2002. Gift of James Atlas, 1981 and Dwight McDonald, 1982. The Delmore Schwartz Papers contains material of mixed provenance. In 1962, Schwartz left Manhattan to live in Syracuse, New York and abandoned his belongings. An individual hired to move the materials recognized Schwartz’s name and stored them for several years until he transferred them to Dwight Macdonald, who was executor of Schwartz’s estate. Upon Schwartz’s death in 1966 in Manhattan, Macdonald retrieved the remaining papers from his last hotel room. Materials left behind in Syracuse were discovered in 1976 and transferred to the George Arents Research Library. In 1981, these materials were sent to the Beinecke Library to comprise the Delmore Schwartz Papers.”

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