Kathryn Rathke
From his years in the Velvet Underground to his involvement with Andy Warhol's Factory to his solo career, Lou Reed is a goldmine of creative ingenuity and a dream interview subject--with two insurmountable caveats. The guy hates being interviewed, and even if you're granted an audience with the King of New York, what's left to say? As veteran music journalist Ann Powers once told me, "None of us needs to write about him; Lester Bangs did it already."

Reed's impassioned disdain for critics is well documented (pick up a copy of 1978's Take No Prisoners if you need immediate evidence). Furthermore, engaging Reed in dialogue illuminating his artistic relevance is futile--his justifiably gargantuan ego and sarcastic wit are always intact, and a spin of the Velvet Underground's White Light, White Heat or Reed's 1996 solo masterpiece Set the Twilight Reeling will demonstrate his worth much more efficiently.

So in lieu of an actual question-and-answer session, I've created my own interview, one where highlights from the past 30 years of brave Reed interrogations (i.e., real Reed answers taken from real publications and films) are quoted against the kinds of questions any fan would want to ask. The result is the following fantasy Q&A with Lou, with sources listed at the end in case you want to read full interviews done for real media outlets with real writers really talking to Reed.

Now everyone knows why I wouldn't want to talk to you. And since you already declined the interview my editor requested, perhaps you could explain why you don't want to talk to me....

"I gave up speaking to journalists. They are a species of foul vermin."

Jeez, you're mean. I'm guessing it bothers you that I'm extrapolating what our interview would have been like.

"See, this to me is what rock journalists do, they rip off, make fun of musicians... y'know, and sell it to morons. Written by morons for morons. I mean, everyone has turned the old Velvet thing into much more than it ever was."

Well, that's a pretty ridiculous statement. That band's impact and your influence are obvious, and you've always taken rock and roll quite seriously as an art form. I refuse to believe you don't recognize your cult status.

"I've become completely well adjusted to being a cult figure."

Let's move on, since you're feeling so well adjusted. Please explain to all the dorks out there that Metal Machine Music was just a cruel joke. In fact, since you're sharing the stage with Sonic Youth at Bumbershoot, I think you should sit down with Lee Ranaldo and Thurston Moore and tell them they got this "feedback as art" business all wrong.

"You're wrong. I was very serious. John Cale made me more aware of electronic music and he had worked with [avant-garde musician] Lamont Young. He had introduced me to the idea of drone. And I was involved with the idea of feedback and guitars and playing around with tape recorders, so I decided to make a piece of music that didn't have lyrics and didn't have a steady beat and concentrated on feedback and guitar not being in any particular key--playing with the speeds. I was serious about it. I was also really, really stoned."

Speaking of being stoned--damn you've done a lot of drugs! How bad did it get when you were tweaking on all that kooky pharmaceutical speed in the '70s?

"As bad as it gets. At a certain point in the '80s I got married, joined AA, and started playing more guitar."

Even though you're clean now, people continuously associate you with drugs and deviance. You still manage to get banned on the radio, as you did for that "Sex with Your Parents" song a while back. Why do you think your image and art are perpetually perceived as dangerous?

"The Velvet Underground were banned from the radio. I'm still being banned. And for exactly the same reasons. Maybe they don't like Jewish faggots.... No. It's what they think I stand for they don't like. They don't want their kid sitting around masturbating to some rock 'n' roll record--probably one of mine. They don't want their kid to ever know he can snort coke or get a blowjob at school or fuck his sister up the ass. They never have. But how seriously can you take it? So they won't play me on the radio. What's the radio? Who's the radio run by? Who is it played for? With or without the radio I'm still dangerous to parents."

I'd say so, especially if you're advising their children to have sex with them. Regardless of that song's socio-political subtext, its title and tone could be seen as distasteful.

"I never said I was tasteful. I'm not tasteful."

Ah, but you do have good taste in women. It sounds like Laurie Anderson keeps your ass in line. You've referred to her as your best critic.

"Laurie is like the sun."

It sounds like she's right up there with Delmore Schwartz and Andy Warhol in terms of figures of influence in your life. What are your most vivid associations with each of them?

"Schwartz was my spiritual godfather. He was my teacher and friend. He was the smartest, funniest, saddest person I'd ever met. He had a large scar on his forehead he said he got dueling with Nietzsche.

"I watched [Andy Warhol] and it seemed like he was passing through a lot of people, and I didn't want him to pass through me. I wanted to get as much as I could from him. Andy always used to say, 'Lou, you're so lazy, you don't work hard enough.' And he was right and I'm trying to make up for that."

Okay. Just one more question. Where the fuck did "Sister Ray" come from? That song is pure insanity. What the hell were you thinking?

"'Sister Ray' was done as a joke--no, not as a joke, but it has eight characters in it and this guy gets killed and nobody does anything. The situation is a bunch of drag queens taking some sailors home with them, shooting up on smack and having this orgy when the police appear. The jam came about right there in the studio. We didn't use any splices or anything. When we did 'Sister Ray,' we turned up to 10 flat-out, leakage all over the place. [The producers] asked us when it would end. We didn't know. We were doing the whole heavy-metal trip back then. If 'Sister Ray' isn't an example of heavy metal, I don't know what is."

Wow. I totally agree! I can't believe you said that! I feel like I'm getting to know the real Lou Reed.

"You want to know the real Lou Reed?"

Of course!

"Turn around."


"Now bend over."

Lou Reed performs at the RealOne Mainstage in Memorial Stadium, Sat Aug 31, 9-10:30 pm.


NY Rock.com

Compuserve chat transcript, 1993

Addicted to Noise

Melody Maker

Lou Reed: Rock & Roll Heart (PBS American Masters Video)

Psychotic Reactions and Carburetor Dung, Lester Bangs

Transformer: The Lou Reed Story, Victor Bockris

Uptight: The Story of the Velvet Underground, Bockris & Gerard Malanga

Researched with invaluable assistance from David Weeks.