A Conversation With Lou Reed, Pt. 4
Weren’t tunes like “Dirt” and “I Wanna Be Black” floating around for several years before they popped up on your albums?
Uh, in varying forms…
Mark J. Norton: I remember hearing it during the Coney Island Baby tour, and it was slow and not at all as funky as it turned out on record.
It never really happened until we were messing around with the band and there was this kind a shuffle going around. The only thing I had for “I Wanna Be Black” was the title, I never had any words to it, I just thought it was a funny idea. You know, as a goof.
You mentioned before your attitude about live recordings–is that at all related to your using live party sounds on “Kicks” and “All Through The Night”?
Yeah, I just wanted to give this feel and broaden it a bit.
I think they both turned out very successfully.
Well, the conversation of “Kicks,” which was a real one–and you know these people thought they were smart, and I said “Oh, let me tape this,” and they said “Oh, sure.” But that whole thing’s interesting because what the guy is talking about there had to do with some lawsuits and everything like that. “Oh, the Morris agency, call up and cancel it,” it goes on and on like that–I faded it as it got libelous. See, what that is is two people talking, eight tracks worth, and when we got to the end, we’d play them back again. Same thing with “All Through The Night.” That’s me, Moose and Turk, and Manfred walked in at one point, but that’s like 14 tracks or something. Because the “All Through The Night” cut, that was done on the spot. Now Don Cherry had this great lick, and I said, “Oh, let’s play to that, I’ll make words up.” And like those are great lyrics, man, and we just did it, we cut it once and one time only. Boom, that was it. And then I came out, I taped it off the board with my little mini-Pearl recorder, and while I taped it, everyone was talking, and when I listened to it back, I heard it with the voices on it. And after that, when I listened to it again, I missed those voices, and I said, “Listen to this,” and everyone said, “Oh wow, we’ve got to put voices to it.” So we did.
Did you write most of the lyrics to the new LP in the studio also?
No, no, no. Those were written, in advance, the day before. Each of those songs, I would write the lyrics in the afternoon, so that the engineer would have a lyric sheet so that we could get a decent vocal sound for once. Like, you know, if he doesn’t have a lyric sheet, you’ve got to sit there for a half hour and he says, “Uhh, you know that line where you…” So to make it easier, I said this time I’m going to write things out. Which I’d never done before, because the lyrics are never done till I’m in the studio. “Coney Island Baby” was an exception to that, though, for instance, because “Coney Island Baby” was a poem in a magazine first, then I changed it to a rock ‘n’ roll lyric.
The Harvard Advocate. (pause) I won a poetry prize, once. Eugene McCarthy gave it to me.
I used to read your stuff in Rolling Stone and occasionally Fusion.
Oh, you remember Fusion? My God.
A lot of people think that this LP is Lou Reed baring his soul autobiographically…
Well, like I’ve pointed out, my mother’s not dead, my father never beat my mother, stuff like that–so you’ve got to take it, like, I’m a writer, you know what I’m saying? I take a thing and…it’s not restricted to me. If it was restricted to me, it’d get very dull for me. I mean, I create a character—and that may or may not apply to me. Whether my mother’s dead or not really doesn’t matter, it’s the attitude I was interested in. Do you know what I’m saying? It’s the character’s attitude that’s important. I wanted to express a view, so I manipulate the events to justify the view.
Would you say that that view is consistent through the whole album?
Sure, I mean everything in that album is about one particular character, why he’s that way, and what causes that kind of viewpoint, that kind of attitude. And I think that’s a fairly prevalent attitude and viewpoint, that a lot of people grow up with, that I’ve seen in a lot of people around me. Not necessarily in myself–although that’s always possible, too. But I’m certainly not restricted by me.
Could you paraphrase the personality type you’re getting at?
No, I couldn’t paraphrase that type of person, I can write songs about him, and that’s what I did. I’m not one to paraphrase mv own stuff.
Should I draw from the album that this person’s to be pitied, or that he’s an asshole? You probably just want me to draw my own conclusion.
Yeah, I don’t see anything pitiful there. I think of the whole thing as on a very up note, now. Like he’s going ahead, like he’s found this perfect lady with the incredible grace?
But by the fact that you just married Sylvia, a lot of people could…
Inferences could be drawn.
You like that ambiguity, too, don’t you?
Only in some things. But I wrote that song specifically for Sylvia.
What do you think about it, Sylvia?
Sylvia: I love it.
See, there’s quote in there from Annie Hall, when I say, “She says ‘well la-de-dah-de-dah,'” that’s for Sylvia. But also I was thinking of Diane Keaton, you know, when she kept saying that to Woody Allen, “la-de-da-de-da,” and then she’s not there anymore, and then he goes with this really dumb, dumb lady, and the whole lobster thing happens again, and she just looks at him and says, “What’s wrong with you?” Where before he was such fun, and it’s just awful and excruciating, and she’s very pretty but she’s so dumb. Just–you know, it would be death, it would be death. And you miss that “la-de-dah,” so I thought, you know, “I’ve got to stick that in a song, because that’s just too good just to leave it in a movie. I shall appropriate it.”
I assume you have a lot of journals, or writings at home?
I used to, but I stopped doing that, too. It’s enough that it’s in my head. I don’t want to put things down on paper anymore unless I’m going to do something with them. Because if I do, and I don’t do something with them, I feel I’ve been slothful. I like to leave things in my head because at some point, maybe there’s a novel or something in there gestating.
What are you going do about that? Are you going to keep playing, or are you serious about writing a book?
Oh, no. I intend to play for a while, I mean, I’m a long-term person; I prefer doing this than anything else. Period. It’s not like I’m doing this so that at some point I can get into that, that’s not my situation at all. This is the thing I like doing best. I love making records and I love being in a band performing. If there’s a novel or poetry book sitting around, well OK. I mean, a collection of lyrics might be good, but for your own edification, one of my business people got in touch with the biggest songbook people, and they didn’t want to hear about me. The only people who know about my lyrics–since I never printed them, are people who are Lou Reed fans. Other than that, it’s not like a Lou Reed fan can take a lyric sheet and say, “Look at that.” They can’t–so they can say to someone, “Well here, listen to that.” And then someone will listen to it and not hear it, because people don’t listen.
That’s why I was curious why you put the lyrics in this one.
Yeah, well first of all, the people around me insisted on it. And second of all, I thought it was a good idea. Because, like, the lyrics are really complex in there and it would just be asking too much to ask somebody to take like “gilt-edged polymorphous urban” and get that, and not only that but to get the pun on “gilt.” That’s a little much. So hence, the lyric sheet. See, usually I was against lyric sheets, being a reverse snob, you know–that a rock ‘n’ roll record shouldn’t have a lyric sheet. But the thing is, I don’t write rock ‘n’ roll lyrics like other people do, like mine deserve a lyric sheet. And I think the people that buy my records really wanted one, and really appreciated it.
(end Pt. 4)