In the wake of Lou Reed’s death yesterday, Laurie Gwen Shapiro, a Syracuse alum, dug up this amazing photo from the university’s 1964 yearbook. “Lou Reed was a student of Delmore Schwartz,” she told us. “Also friends with cheerleader Betsey Johnson (look at her here!) who went on to become the fashion designer and was briefly married to John Cale.”
According to the book White Light/White Heat, Reed briefly attended the Bronx branch of NYU before starting at Syracuse in 1960. There, he was kicked out of the ROTC and kicked off of the college radio station because the music he was playing was “just too weird and cutting edge,” according to the program director who gave him the boot after faculty complaints. He played guitar in a folk quartet and then, while in the rock band LA & the Eldorados (shown in the photo), wrote early versions of “Coney Island Baby,” “Heroin,” and “Waiting for the Man.” While at Syracuse, he also met Sterling Morrison, who would eventually become his bandmate in the Velvets.
In ’64, Reed was penning pop-music knockoffs as a staff writer at Pickwick Records and living at his parents’ house in Long Island. It was then that he was introduced to Cale. After graduating, Reed began collaborating with the avant-garde musician in the $25-a-month apartment at 56 Ludlow Street that Cale shared with filmmaker Tony Conrad (the name Velvet Underground came from an S&M novel Conrad found on the street). You can read Cale’s memories of the building here and see a photo of the Velvets outside of it here. By the end of 1965, he and Reed were sharing a place at 450 Grand Street, near Pitt Street; on New Year’s Eve, they got a visit from Andy Warhol, who, in April of ’66, opened his Exploding Plastic Inevitable show at 19-25 St. Marks Place with the Velvets as house band.
Somewhat ironically, Reed studied journalism while he was at Syracuse. “They didn’t want an opinion,” he told Charlie Rose in 1998, “so that was it for me and journalism school.”