Lou Reed’s surprising archives: sex store receipts and football snapshots

Apparently, Lou Reed was the H&R Block of classic rockers: The man kept his receipts.

In fact, “Lou Reed: Caught Between the Twisted Stars” — an exhaustive exhibit that opens at the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts on Thursday — displays just how diligent the “Walk on the Wild Side” icon was about retaining proof of his purchases. One of the showcased receipts is even for the studded dog collar he wears on the cover of his 1974 live album “Rock ’n’ Roll Animal,” which Reed — in true New Yorker fashion — bought from the West Village sex shop the Pleasure Chest.

“His father was an accountant and taught Lou to keep receipts, keep records and all that sort of thing,” said curator Jason Stern, who was Reed’s assistant in his final years and now works with his widow, Laurie Anderson. “So I think that probably made its mark.”

“Lou Reed: Caught Between the Twisted Stars” shows the many musical guises of the late rocker.
Stephen Yang
Lou Reed performing in an undated photo.
Lou Reed performing in an undated photo.
Sygma via Getty Images

That Pleasure Chest receipt for $13.50 is among Reed’s personal artifacts that bring some of his downtown New York cool to Lincoln Center in the multimedia exhibit that runs until March. And it’s certainly striking how much Reed stored over the years.

At Anderson’s request, Stern and his co-curator, Don Fleming — an archivist who once played in the group Half Japanese with Reed’s former Velvet Underground bandmate Moe Tucker — began cataloging Reed’s vast array of artifacts shortly after his death, in 2013. And when it came time to put the exhibit together, they got some help from Anderson.

“Laurie was kind of like our barometer,” said Fleming. “We had a lot more stuff in it … maybe three times as much as is in there right now. And so she was like, ‘You’ve got to cut more than half of this.’ ”

The "Lou Reed: Caught Between the Twisted Stars" exhibit.
“Lou Reed: Caught Between the Twisted Stars” features photos with his widow, Laurie Anderson, who advised the curators.
Stephen Yang

Still, there is so much left to discover about Reed. One room showcases his poetry, including everything from his published works to a cassette tape of a poetry reading at St. Mark’s Church. 

“We really wanted to show that, at the center of it, he wanted to be a writer and a poet,” said Fleming. “That’s why his work is so literary … That’s where his heart was.”

And there are musical discoveries too, with a host of demos and other unreleased material displaying an experimental genius’ creative process and evolution. “I have to say, the audio collection is just so rich. Really incredible material,” said Stern, noting a precursor to Reed’s 1975 album “Metal Machine Music.” “There’s this one tape called ‘The Electric Rock Symphony.’ It’s about 40 minutes long: The first 20 minutes are guitar feedback, and the second 20 minutes are very kind of pretty piano playing.”

The "Lou Reed: Caught Between the Twisted Stars" exhibit
One room in the “Lou Reed: Caught Between the Twisted Stars” exhibit showcases his vinyl record collection.
Stephen Yang
Lou Reed in 1978.
Lou Reed in 1978.
Getty Images

The exhibit also shows the sweeter side of Reed’s relationship with Tucker, including Valentine’s Day cards they would send each other — calling each other “Honeybun,” no less — and photos of them tossing around a football. “I just couldn’t believe I’m seeing Lou even holding a football,” said Stern. “It was like the least expected thing we could have found in our collection.”

While Reed’s guitars might be more expected, there’s also his astrology chart, personal letters and a room dedicated to his vinyl record collection that reveals his predilection for doo-wop singles and bootlegs. And the exhibit captures the many different musical guises he had during his legendary career.

The "Lou Reed: Caught Between the Twisted Stars" exhibit
“Lou Reed: Caught Between the Twisted Stars” is a multimedia experience featuring everything from audio and video to personal photos and memorabilia.
Stephen Yang

“I want people to take away that Lou was an artist who never stopped evolving,” said Stern. “The man contained multitudes.”

“Lou Reed: Caught Between the Stars” opens June 9th and will run through March 4, 2023 at The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts at Lincoln Center, 40 Lincoln Center Plaza; 917-275-6975, NYPL.org/events/exhibitions/Lou-Reed.

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