TO anybody unfamiliar with the stratagems that Lou Reed regularly adopts to unsettle journalists, the scene unfolding in this chic Greenwich Village restaurant would seem pretty weird. Even I, a veteran of four previous encounters with one of rock's most truculent interviewees - and hence no stranger to his bleak stares, sudden interruptions and blank refusals to answer this or that - am confused.
We were scheduled to meet at 12.30pm to talk, over lunch, about Lou Reed's Berlin, a concert movie directed by his friend, artist and film director Julian Schnabel.
After various phone messages to the effect that "Lou is running late", at 3pm a middle-aged stranger walks up to my table, introduces himself as Reed's manager and leads me over to another table on the terrace outside, where he and his client are tucking into their tagliatelle starters. Reed looks up briefly, mumbles something and resumes his conversation with the manager.
Perched beside them, cradling the glass of mineral water that has kept me company for the past two hours, I soon realise there will be no lunch for me today and possibly no proper interview, either.But enough about the interviewer:
At 66, Reed looks better now than he did for most of his middle years. His bad-hair decade, the 1990s, during which he persisted with a dyed black mullet, is behind him. He is back with a greyer version of the tousled mop he wore in his Velvet Underground days. He has long since kicked all of his bad habits, smoking being the last to go, in 2001; and, thanks to his exercise programs, tai-chi workouts and fastidious eating habits, his lean, slight figure means he can just about get away with the teenage gear he is wearing today: a noisy ensemble of baggy, brilliant-white tracksuit bottoms, orange and green trainers and a khaki windcheater.But Lou doesn't forget the interviewer:
No sooner has Reed started to recall the conversations he has had through the years with Bob Ezrin - Berlin's producer and arranger, who originally suggested that he weave the songs into "a film for the ear" - than another, more painful memory barges in. Reed fixes me with a fierce stare. "Did you write that review of The Raven" - Reed's last studio album, from 2003 - "which said, 'Don't quit your day job'?"Why do you think Reed would be in the back seat of a Mini Cooper for more than hour? Anyway, there's more good stuff, and I encourage you to read the whole thing.
He stares down my startled denial. "I remember these things. I don't mean to, but people send me this stuff. It's like your great-aunt just loves to see your name in the paper. But anyway... Look at that!"Reed has just spotted a new Mini Cooper driving past the restaurant. "They're really fun to drive, but you don't wanna be in one for more than an hour. You can't see out the back and you can't move."