Lou Reed Reads Delmore Schwartz’s Famous Story “In Dreams Begin Responsibilities”



In a gal­lop­ing vignette in Tablet, writer Lee Smith man­ages to evoke the essences of both sen­ti­men­tal tough guy Lou Reed and his lit­er­ary men­tor and hero, “Brook­lyn Jew­ish Trou­ba­dour” Del­more Schwartz. Although Schwartz’s “poet­ry is his real lega­cy,” Smith writes, that rich body of work is often obscured by the fact that “his most famous work is a short sto­ry,” the much-anthol­o­gized “In Dreams Begin Respon­si­bil­i­ties” (1935) It’s a sto­ry writ­ten in prose as lyri­cal as can be—with sen­tences one wants to pause and linger over, read­ing again and again, out loud if pos­si­ble. It’s also a sto­ry in which we see “a direct line… between Schwartz and Reed,” whose song “Per­fect Day” per­forms sim­i­lar kind of mag­i­cal cat­a­logu­ing of urban imper­ma­nence. For Reed, one­time stu­dent of Schwartz at Syra­cuse Uni­ver­si­ty, “Del­more Schwartz is every­thing.”

Reed ded­i­cat­ed the last song, “Euro­pean Son,” on the first Vel­vet Under­ground album to Schwartz, and wrote an elo­quent for­ward to a reis­sue of Schwartz’s first col­lec­tion of sto­ries and poems, also titled In Dreams Begin Respon­si­bil­i­ties. And just above, you can hear Reed him­self read the sto­ry aloud, savor­ing those lyri­cal sen­tences in his Brook­lyn dead­pan. It’s easy to imag­ine Reed writ­ing many of these sen­tences, such was Schwartz’s influ­ence on him. They shared not only com­mon ori­gins, but also a com­mon sen­si­bil­i­ty; in Reed’s songs we hear the echo of Schwartz’s voice, the satir­i­cal world-weari­ness and the lyri­cism and long­ing. In the bio­graph­i­cal doc­u­men­tary Rock and Roll Heart, Reed says that Schwartz showed him how, “with the sim­plest lan­guage imag­in­able, and very short, you can accom­plish the most aston­ish­ing heights.” Read­ing, and lis­ten­ing to Schwartz’s aston­ish­ing “In Dreams Begin Respon­si­bil­i­ties” may help you under­stand just what he meant.

This read­ing has been added to our col­lec­tion, 1,000 Free Audio Books: Down­load Great Books for Free.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Lou Reed Rewrites Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Raven.” See Read­ings by Reed and Willem Dafoe

Rock and Roll Heart, 1998 Doc­u­men­tary Retraces the Remark­able Career of Lou Reed

Teenage Lou Reed Sings Doo-Wop Music (1958–1962)

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

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