A Conversation With Lou Reed, Pt. 2
Have you been listening to any new rock?
Yeah, the new Eric Clapton album.
Mark. J. Norton: Why?
Mark J. Norton: Yeah. That’s really shocking.
(feigned astonishment) Oh my god! Because when he’s on–I mean, I love his particular style of soloing, it’s a style a guy I worked with called Danny Weiss…
Wait a minute—was that the guy from Iron Butterfly?
Oh—wait, that Canadian band called Mandala?
Mark J. Norton: Yeah, with Prakash and…
Right. All those guys are really good. Prakash is one hell of a bass player. I mean that sounds so tacky, but he’s really good. I mean he’s really good. I mean, he’s really good. And Danny Weiss is really good. And the guys I got now are…as good as that, they’re at least as good as that. I wouldn’t say they’re better than that, but they’re at least as good as that. At least. And sometimes I think they may get inspired past ’em. And Danny Weiss does this thing called chicken-picking…Well, I can’t describe it to you, Tony Joe White did a solo on the record “Po’k Salad Annie,” that little guitar solo in the middle of that is kind of like that, except if you speed it up a little…
You like J.J. Cale, too?
Umm…some of it. Some of it gets a little too mellowed out for me, you know, where everything sounds like it’s 5:30 in the morning. Well no, that’s not really true. But I like Clapton, there’s some solos that are so fast it’s unbelievable. Not bullshit fast–I mean sometimes I have to stop and play it back. I listen on tapes so I can do that because I love to go back to something that’s good–and I hear a passage and I say “Where’s he going to go from there, I mean it just can’t be done”… And sure enough. I mean, my God, after Hendrix I guess, he’s the only guy who can use a wah-wah pedal. I mean, usually I hear a wah-wah pedal and uhhh.. (makes face) next! But, you know. That alburn–I mean like, not all of it, I mean not all of practically any album except Stevie Wonder, I guess… Stevie Wonder, I mean you can go track by track and there’s bound to be something on it. (pause) Somebody said something very weird to me about Stevie Wonder. They said that the trouble with Stevie Wonder is that his only experience is, like, sex and recording. He hasn’t really experience much else. Now I don’t know about that, because I saw this picture of him with his hair done. Somebody really works over him, I mean they must do it to him in his sleep, or he does it to himself. Warhol gave him like a Polaroid camera as a present for his birthday, and it was really funny,
He got in trouble at Michigan State, in fact, for driving a car.
For driving a car. The police pulled him over for driving a car.
No, I’m serious. He had someone with him, he just wanted to drive for a little bit.
To see what it was like?
That’s fantastic. And they were telling him to slow down and speed up?
Yeah. So there’s an experience he had.
And if they took him away to jail, that would’ve been another experience. What if he ran over somebody? Yeah, but he’s got this great advantage in the studio. You can hear it. You ever notice how immaculate his albums are? He always has the best bass sound, it’s just incredible. Like “Living For The City”—which I think is… one of the more incredible things ever done by people as we know them. The bass sound on that —I mean, I think it’s a Moog, I don’t think it’s a real bass, but — whew, what a sound to knock out. But the exciting thing, one of the most exciting things I’ve ever heard, was that Ornette Coleman thing on TV. That just–I just sat bolted, I videotaped it. Of course the machine didn’t work, but I was too excited to really notice it. I was taping over something like Blood Of The Castle, I had no blank videotapes, just some stupid horror film–(to Sylvia) remember that?
Guys walking around going “NNNGHHH” and it goes on and on like that for no reason at all for 120 minutes. So I put tissue paper in the two holes and tried to record on that. Unfortunately, the film was about to end…Ornette Coleman has not recorded that stuff himself, it’s not on any of his albums.
I really think you should pick up the Body-Meta album, you’d be surprised.
Body-Meta, like metaphysics. Anyway, like Stevie, do you ever record your own music, at home, by yourself?
Only when an album’s due, then we sit around and write songs.
Yeah, but how about just you, yourself?
Any reason why?
I used to, and then I just didn’t see any reason why to do it when I could just go do it in the studio and really hear it back. It’s like I know it’s there all the time, I know it’s not going anyplace, I know it’s not going to disappear, I know this inspiration or whatever, there’ll be another one just like it next week. There’s no sense in just having 40 good ideas around, you know? Because then I’d have to sit around and say Gee, gee, gee, which one should I do? And I like to have the latest one, so I just have fun with it in my head. I can hear it in my head, and that’s the main thing. It’s gotten to the point now where I know what it’s going to be, I can hear it, and I don’t want to have to put it down on tape. It used to be that I’d put it down on tape because I thought it would go away and I wanted to remember it, but finally, the really good ones don’t go away. And also, it’s a lot more fun doing it with somebody else. As far as I’m concerned.
I don’t like playing alone, I like a band situation. I enjoy playing with the guys. I’d much rather sit around with Fonfara and say “Oh, wow, listen to this,” and then he’ll play something. And that’s fun. Myself, I just sit around with my own input, and I know my own input, and I enjoy other people’s input.
Are you saying you’re starting to feel limited?
Oh no, I’ve got plenty of my own ideas, I enjoy other people’s ideas. I think it rounds out my own ideas. I mean my ideas are fine and dandy, but I like hearing other people’s ideas aside from my own. I mean the Turk might hear something and I’ll say, “Put one of your weird chords to it, put a little jazzy thing there, or an Erik Satie thing there, Michael.” And I mean, he can do that, and I can’t. I mean, I can hear it in my head, I know what I want. You know what I mean?
Yeah, I do. I just feel that–as good as your band is–there might be some sounds that you want that no one can produce but yourself.
Oh yeah, but then I play them. Certain kind of solos. For instance–I’ll give you a for instance…
Yeah, please do.
Like in “My Old Man,” there’s a little break towards the end, before the vamp out, and there’s a little guitar solo. OK? I’m doing that. As soon as the drummer finishes the fill, the other guitarist takes over and plays the line I told him. But that little section –it’s just a little teeny section–that I do, because I felt it, and I knew what I wanted. And we tried various guys taking a crack at it, and we ended up using me, because of the way I was hitting it. There are certain kinds of rhythm that I’ve never heard anybody but me do. And it’s such a simple idea, I just don’t understand other people not being able to do it. But I have a certain discipline, an unihibited approach–and, well, most musicians work really hard on their tone. Talk to a reed-player–like Marty, he’s really working to get that tone. And my thing was to get my guitar sound. And I spent years, you know, [learning] how to get it, how to get that loud sound and not go deaf onstage. And not have a bunch of foot pedals all around. I wanted to control the sound through the guitar.
Out of the stuff you’ve recorded, what’s the best example of the guitar sound you’ve most enjoyed?
On “Keep Away,” that rhythm guitar that’s hitting the offbeats? That’s me. I love that, I love that. I just don’t understand why other guitar play and if you think drum for instance, I’m doing all those little messes of para-diddles–BUMM*BUMM*BUMM*BUMM–on the guitar. Or the idea of a rhythm guitar part having a melody. I mean, that was what “Sweet Jane” was, I always–well, we were talking about parts, I always try to set up a rhythm part that’s also a riff. A rhythm part that if somebody heard the rhythm part, they would like it. That you could sing to the rhythm part. It’s not a note part, it’s a chord part. In jazz, you know how a lot of really good jazz guys can play whole things just with chords.
Which kind of explains why you like the early Ornette & Cherry stuff.
Some of his harmonic ideas–Jesus, when you first hear them, you tend to say he can’t play, and that’s not true.
That’s what people said about you a long time ago, and now they seem to have changed their minds…
I’ve always had really good musicians. I’ve got great taste. Because I really love this stuff. It’s like some people like wine, I like rock ‘n’ roll. I spent years collecting. No, I don’t collect records, per se–I used to, but they got ripped off. So now I’ve got a juke box at home, where like I have my favorites. It’s funny, I’ve got my pinball games, my video games…
(end Pt. 2)