While Prof. Judith Peraino, music, was combing through the archives at the Andy Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh for her upcoming book, she found something of a golden treasure: a cassette tape with a dozen unreleased songs from rock legend Lou Reed.
The tape, one of thousands in the archives, had a label on it — “The Philosophy Songs (from A to B and Back),” the name of Warhol’s 1975 book.
The first side of the tape had live performance recordings from Reed’s 1975 tour. The second side included unreleased songs from Reed about Warhol’s 1975 book.
“I had never heard them before,” Peraino said in an interview with The Sun. “I couldn’t find any reference to anyone else having heard these songs. As I read more and researched more, I figured out what they were.”
But the fact that it was Reed singing about Warhol’s book was not instantly clear, according to Peraino.
“At the moment that I listened to the songs, it was a little confusing that it was Lou Reed because his voice didn’t sound like the other side of the tape, his stadium voice,” Peraino said. “This was very much more intimate, close to the microphone. I was just thinking ‘what is this?’”
Earlier this year, Peraino published a paper based on her findings in the Journal of Musicology, “I’ll Be Your Mixtape: Lou Reed, Andy Warhol and the Queer Intimacies of Cassettes.” The paper examines the meaning behind this rare artifact — in particular, what Reed was attempting to communicate to Warhol, and the nature of their interactions.
The pair began their professional relationship in late 1965, and eventually collaborated on the album “The Velvet Underground and Nico” (1967). While Reed and Warhol continued to remain friends after the album’s release, two stopped collaborating professionally.
“What’s interesting about this tape, they remain friends and circulate together, but it is an uncomfortable friendship,” Peraino explained.
In Peraino’s opinion, Warhol and Reed inspired each other, but also disappointed one another. The tape was ostensibly made after the duo attempted to collaborate again, perhaps this time on a Broadway musical — something that never came to pass.
“It is clear they had a very fraught and intense friendship,” Peraino said. “I think it [the tape] was a message in that it was a double portrait of sorts.”
In this “double portrait,” one side exemplifies what Reed had accomplished — recordings from his successful 1975 tour. The other side showed what Warhol had accomplished, his book “The Philosophy of Andy Warhol (From A to B and Back Again). Reed’s showcase of Warhol’s accomplishments, however, was not without criticism.
“It is also a little bit critical of Warhol,” Peraino said. “He [Reed] sings in Andy Warhol’s voice, in his point of view, but brings up some of the not-so-nice sides of Andy Warhol.”
“The message is pointed. It is not ‘your book is so great.’ It’s kind of a little bit of a dig at Andy Warhol,” she continued. “It’s saying ‘we might have collaborated on something, but that’s not going to happen, so here are some songs on your book.’”
As to whether or not Warhol actually listened to the tape, Peraino says she has found no verifiable evidence confirming that he did. However, Reed claimed in an interview that Warhol was “fascinated but horrified,” by the tape, according to Peraino.
One aspect that interests Peraino about the tape is how it “prefigures the mixtape culture” of the 80’s, allowing the two celebrities to communicate.
“One of the things that I’m most proud of is uncovering the ways in which music was used by these celebrities to try to work through their friendship,” Peraino said. “[The mixtape] also has large ramifications for how important music is to expression of emotions and relating in general.”
Eventually, Peraino’s discovery led her back to upstate New York. After finding the tapes, Peraino met and interviewed Bruce Yaw, one of Reed’s Bass players from 1975 until 1978. Until his death this past September, he lived about 45 miles from Ithaca, near Moravia, New York.
“Even in Ithaca, we have these incredible stories,” Peraino said. “There are a lot of great musicians sort of hiding out in upstate New York.”