In my March 1989 Today Show interview with Lou Reed in New York City, he’d just celebrated his 47th birthday a few days before. He was in extremely fine spirits during this interview, very very funny, making jokes and reminding me, “that’s a joke, Rona” in case I didn’t get his it. I’ll assume I was trying to be serious and centered sitting with him. At that time to support this new 14 song album, New York, he was preparing for a series of concerts at the St. James Theatre on West 44th Street in the city. I went one night and can tell you he was in great form onstage too.
After Lou passed, I dug into my files and tapes and found the original interview with him from that day and thought I’d share some of what I found intriguing about Lou at that moment and give you a few examples of the way he was thinking:
During our conversation some of the distinctions Lou was chewing over and talked with me about, was the difference he experienced between writing songs and performing them and how startled he was by the changes in studio technology since his previous recording. Lou also said that he felt being in the studio and recording a song was often at odds with the essence of a song, and he struggled to maintain the works’ original spirit while recording it. Most importantly Lou was adamant about finding a way to get the sound of his voice, to sound like his voice in a studio setting to his satisfaction. Lou was very clear that this album New York was “ as good as I get”. He was very happy with it.
As for why he never wrote about topics like moon and June like so much other rock n roll, he declared he just wasn’t interested. He said that outside of those topics “that left a lot you could write about and there’s a lot of things to write about. Why should I write about this? What is that, verboten to me? You know a song about a chair, who sat in the chair, who built the chair. Boy this chair is lonely, ‘cause its owner left” and so on. That was Lou’s mind at work. And as we know, his work was populated (chairs aside) with an unbelievable and memorable cast of characters and situations found almost nowhere else in rock nor explored as provocatively and honestly as Lou did.
As for what Lou himself thought about his fans and critics’ love and fascination for Walk on the Wild Side (myself included) he told me “I always wondered about that song, like what is it that people like? I mean, I always ask people, or people come up — what is it? And I decided it’s the doo doo doos. And believe me, if I could have written the Son of Wild Side I would have, a long time ago.”
Lou was a brilliant man, an artist and an intellectual. In looking at my August 1986 notes and transcripts from our interview, the topics he brought up included but were not limited to: Buddha, the Battle of Hasting, Dirty Harry, Jesus, German opera singers, the Supreme Court, Raymond Chandler, Shakespeare, Elvis and the Okefenokee Swamp. He also insisted that Keith Richards performance on “Start Me Up” was the greatest guitar riff, ever.
I personally found Lou to be astonishingly sweet and sensitive with acutely insightful emotional radar. Here’s an example of what made Lou such a complex character to me. After the Velvet Underground split and before he made it again in music, one of his jobs was working as a typist for two years. He explained it me, “I’d taken typing in high school cause my mom always told me, you know, you’ll have to fall back on something, and in fact, I did. You know. Fifty, sixty words a minute”. I asked him if it was satisfying work. Yes, he said. “It was enormously satisfying, considering some of the people I’d been around at the time. It was like (a) very very calm period of time.” So Lou did everything and drank it all in.
Lou Reed pushed every boundary and edge a little further out shining his piercing light into different corners and took us with him. He took a stand for his truths at every stage of his life. Safe travels and thanks again, Lou, until next time.