Thursday, 2 August 2012

Lou Reed's Record Collection

The Word - a magazine I ought to have read more often than I did - is shortly to be no more; its final edition is in UK shops just now.

Others will be better placed to eulogise; I only mention it because skimming through its last hurrah reminded me of an early post on this blog, and a matter which has been occupying me on and off for some time, namely the content of Lou Reed's record collection, stolen in the sixties.

In an interview with John Medd in the final edition of The Word he mentions a few artists presumably among those purloined, and it's gratifying to see that he liked "anything by the Flamingos" and the Diablos' The Wind, a near neighbour of Flamingos recordings at their ethereal best:

Below is part of that original blog post, dating from 2009, the time when I first discovered the delights of blogging and was happy (and time-rich enough) to let posts go where they would. I was looking over one of the messages sent to Steve's Kewl Doo Wop Shop in 2000 (click on page above) before reposting them on this blog with additional notes. This led me to remember the album on which I first discovered the Flamingos' Golden Teardrops: a cheapo compilation of Vee Jay material licensed by Springboard International. (And it was the Vee Jay version, with a guitar added to the original Chance recording to accentuate the chord changes.)

But I didn't know then that Lou Reed was a Flamingos fan, so how did I get to him? Well, searching online in 2009 for images of the cover of that cheapo compilation (the above is another volume in the series) I came across an exhibition by the French artist Francis Baudevin, who had appropriated the simple but effective geometric shapes common to all those Original Oldies LPs issued by Springboard International.

This simplicity and appropriation of popular culture set me to thinking about Andy Warhol and so, by degrees, to Lou Reed:
Suprising that Andy Warhol never cottoned on to their graphic potential before M. Baudevin - but then, maybe he already had the original Vee Jay albums. Or could it be, in fact, that Warhol was the brains behind the notorious theft of Lou Reed's entire doo wop collection, only to find warring sensations of guilt and delight serving both to check his enjoyment of the purloined discs and stifle creative stirrings in the area of doo wop-related graphics ever after, for fear of inadvertantly exposing the source of his inspiration to Lou? A case, you might say, of The Tell-Tale Heartbeats ...

The above puerility discharged, I couldn't resist checking the chronology of Reed meeting Warhol and getting his records pinched. To my surprise (as I presumed it happened long before the two met) I found that his records (and his Gretch guitar) were stolen while he was performing as part of Warhol's Exploding Plastic Inevitable in New York in April 1966 - so it is technically possible that Warhol could have been the culprit, sneaking off to do the deed when Lou was safely onstage. Unless it was some earlier theft of the teenage Reed's records which I'd vaguely registered while surfing and he was forever dogged by ill luck in the matter of vinyl retention.

Either way, I would love to know which particular doo wop records he favoured, although I strongly suspect that Dion and the Belmonts' insouciant Love Came to Me would have been among them: at one point Dion gives a kind of laidback chuckle during the bridge ("Love makes me, uh, makes me feel so good") which makes me think of Sweet Jane. 

Well, now The Word can help fill in some of the gaps - and point towards further information. Asked about musical influences, Reed told John Medd:
I got the Sound of the Hound out of Buffalo, New York ...and other stuff on the soul station. Everything was from the radio ... all the soul guys, the rockabilly people, everything that Dion was listening to, and I was listening to Dion. Later on I inducted him into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, which was pretty great for me ... Smoke From Your Cigarette, Lillian Leach and the Mellows ...
I hadn't heard Smoke From Your Cigarette  before today, but it sounds awfully familiar. Partly because it either draws on or inspired, other records, or maybe just because it carries the authentic doo wop ache.

The interview in The Word as a whole is somewhat disjointed - Medd complains that that the two of them never found a common rhythm and that, even though the conversation had been face to face it had been like "conducting a transatlantic phone call across a small table." - but it set me looking for the speech Lou Reed gave when inducting Dion - and, having found it, it was easy to understand why Reed might have felt impatient at having to give the same information in a debased form when he had once polished it and delivered it to the ideal audience.

Here is that speech, taken from Dion's official website, with more details of the artists Reed listened to:
It was 1958, and the cold winds of Long Island blew in from the ocean, their high-pitched howl mixing with the dusty, musky, mellifluous liquid sounds of rock and roll -- the sounds of another life, the sounds of freedom.

As Alan Freed pounded a telephone book and the honking sax of Big Al Sears seared the airwaves with his theme song “Hand Clappin’,” I sat staring at an indecipherable book on plane geometry, whose planes and angles would forever escape me. And I wanted to escape it and the world of SAT tests the college boards — leap immediately and eternally into the world of Shirley and Lee, The Diablos, The Paragons, The Jesters, Lilian Leach and the Mellows (“Smoke from Your Cigarette”), Alicia and the Rockaways (“Why Can't I Be Loved?” — a question that certainly occupied my teenage time). The lyrics sat in my head like Shakespearean sonnets, with all the power of tragedy: “Gloria,” “Why Don’t You Write Me, Darling, Send Me a Letter” by The Jacks.

And then there was Dion — that great opening to "I Wonder Why" engraved in my skull forever. Dion, whose voice was unlike any other I had heard before. Dion could do all the turns stretch those syllables so effortlessly, soar so high he could reach the sky and dance there among the stars forever. What a voice — that had absorbed and transmogrified all these influences into his own soul, as the wine turns into blood, a voice that stood on its own remarkably and unmistakably from New York — Bronx Soul. It was the kind of voice you never forget. Over the years that voice has stayed with me, as it has, I'm sure, stayed with you. And whenever I hear it I'm flooded with memories of what once was and what could be.

It's been my pleasure to get to know Dion over the years and even, my idea of heaven, sing occasional backup for him. He doesn't know how long I'd rehearsed those bass-line vocals. I was ready to back up Dion. He had the chops, and he practically invented the attitude. "Ruby Baby," "Donna the Prima Donna," “The Wanderer” … "I'll tear open my shirt and show her 'Rosie' on my chest," a line so good that twenty-odd years later I couldn't resist doing a variant on it for one of my own albums.

After all, who could be hipper than Dion?

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