“Everyone knows you can’t do anything with an English degree,” Lou Reed told me when asked to reminisce about his days as an undergrad at New York’s Syracuse University. Perhaps Reed, Syracuse Class of 1964, is the exception to the rule: Thursday night at the W Hotel in New York City, he was honored by his alma mater with the George Arents Pioneer Medal for Excellence in the Arts. Rock stars that included Bono — who called Reed New York’s equivalent of Dublin’s James Joyce — and David Bowie, trustees and pointy-headed academics got together and chanted “Loooooooouuuuu!” and the guest of honor, not exactly an emo man, was genuinely moved.
“Who would have thought it would have come to this?” Reed asked from the podium as the university announced the Lou Reed/Delmore Schwartz scholarship for creative writing undergraduates, worth $8,000 a year for four years. Schwartz, the New York poet who penned the 1937 short story “In Dreams Begin Responsibilty,” taught at Syracuse from 1962 until his death in 1966. His name is institutionally tethered to Reed, a former student who immortalized his professor in the Velvet Underground’s song “European Son.”
As an English professor at Syracuse who put Reed up for an honorary doctorate, I’m in a unique position to appreciate how the “Sweet Jane” generation has assumed cultural power: Lou could very well become Dr. Reed. “Well, maybe I could teach a master class or something,” he said.