Monday, May 16, 2005

Lou Reed Interview

Peter Ross interviewed Lou Reed for the Sunday Herald. Here are some choice bits (this is kind of long):

"Reed is notoriously difficult; he is to journalists what Cape Horn was to 18th century sailors – a vicious hunk of rock given to unpredictable storms, which draws you with its legend then dashes all your hopes. Even the celebrated rock critic Lester Bangs, who admired Reed so much he wrote he would gladly perform a sex act upon him, was moved to describe his hero as a bibulous bozo, a death dwarf and an emblem of absolute negativism.

Conditions were placed upon our interview, which was eventually scheduled to take place in Denmark. It would not include lunch or dinner with Reed, a man known for his nutritional fads, who according to former Velvet Underground bandmate Sterling Morrison, 'once went on a diet so radical there was no fat showing on his central-nerve chart.' And I was told I must write that he has recently signed a worldwide recording deal with Sanctuary Records. Sanctuary CEO Merck Mercuriadis told me that he intended for the release of Reed’s album in 2006 to feel like a real event. He also said that, 'Lou definitely views journalists as the enemy.'"

"The tour manager, Mike de Lisle, meets me in the lobby. Sorry, but the interview has been put back by 30 minutes, and Lou wants to shave 10 off the end. I’ll have to make my own way to the room. Lou’s Tai Chi instructor Master Ren Guangyi is flying in from New York and needs to be picked up from the airport. 'The exercise is very important to Lou.'"

"He cuts in. 'I can’t emphasise to you enough: I am not. A. Robert Burns. Expert.' Right. I’m not saying you are an expert. But there is something within his work that draws you? 'What do you think is the answer to that question?' I think there must be, otherwise you wouldn’t be playing. 'There you go. You could do both sides now, all by yourself.' He’s acting as if I’m attacking him. I try again –Could you ... – but he interrupts: 'No. I can’t.' You can’t say what you particularly like about his work? 'No, no. I’m not a critic. I don’t do things like that.' I wasn’t asking you to take a critical stance, I say, just give a personal response. He pauses and takes a slug from his water bottle. 'How can anyone not like, "A man’s a man for all of that, for all of that, for all of that"? I mean, he’s a great writer. I don’t know what you want me to say. I could recite clich├ęs to you all afternoon if you want.' He starts to do so, sarcastically. “‘Great rhythm. Terrific choice of words. Really tremendous subject matter. Very, very great empathy with working people.’ Is that okay? Do you think?'"

"Back in the room with Reed, the conversation twists and jerks like a fish on a line. It turns out we had both seen Robert Carlyle playing Hitler on TV the night before, and he can’t stop talking about how great he (Carlyle not Hitler) was. Then he wants to know who else is performing at Burns An’ A’ That (“Billy O’Connolly?”) and which is the better city for taking photographs, Glasgow or Edinburgh. We touch, too, on the recent Channel 4 poll of the 100 greatest albums of all time, which I tell him included Transformer and the first Velvets album. 'That’s all? I shoulda had the first 30.'"

"I tell him that I was 15 the first time I ever heard The Velvet Underground song Heroin and was amazed by the way the sound mirrored the words. Was he aware then that he was doing something new?

'We didn’t know about it being new, but the basic idea was that the music should always match the lyrics. Heroin is a perfect example. So is Venus In Furs and All Tomorrow’s Parties. The same idea runs through every song I’ve ever written.

'But we were having fun. You must understand that we weren’t critics, only players. Players play and they don’t sit around assessing it. At least this one doesn’t. We certainly did enjoy what we were doing and we were very pure. One hundred per cent devoted to music as music without any other considerations. That’s why it was great to be picked up by Warhol, who loved us just the way we were and didn’t try to change anything, except, y’know, give us a chanteuse. I guess he thought we needed someone who was really good looking.'"
And it goes on like this for some time. It's amazing how many interviews are out there where the interviewer talks about how difficult it is to interview him. I've yet to see one where the writer admits that the questions really were stupid, but almost all say, "I love Lou Reed. Why is he treating me this way?"

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