A Conversation With Lou Reed, Pt. 5
(At this point a former CREEM employee walks up and asks if he can speak with me. I ask if he could wait awhile, as an interview is transpiring)
Does he belong to you?
He did at one point, he used to work for CREEM.
Are you an editor?
Yeah. New people are at CREEM, as you probably surmised.
Yeah, yeah. I know, because like when I was initially approached, I said “What?!” She said, “No, no, no–they like you…”
Do you still have Richard Robinson?
Yeah–he writes great stuff, easy for anyone to understand.
You ought to get him to write about magic.
I know he puts on shows…
He’s a magician. He and I were so appalled at the Sony Corporation. If I ever get some equipment again…VHS all the way! (A brief discussion about video hardware ensues)
Let me get something straight about your Rock ‘N’ Roll Heart tour. I know it must’ve cost a bundle, but what did you have, on the screens?
(looks heavenward in pleasure) Ahhh! Actually, I’ll tell you something–it didn’t cost a bundle, because I didn’t have to have a lighting company. The more shows we did, the more the thing paid off for itself. Those were all TVs that I got out of a hospital. I just kept watching the auction pages of the New York Times, and they were switching over to color. When we got back, I think 12 worked. But the way that was done–our hearts were really in the right place, man, really, seriously, it was so smart the way we did it, because the old Sony Betamax Porta-Pak had a 20-minute thing in there for newscasters, and we took a reel of tape–of course now you can use a cassette, but that was a long time ago–and we put it in there. And I thought, my God, if we just took a bunch of tapes and just numbered them… People actually thought it was in time to the music because I made these abstract tapes. And see the thing was, they had these different rhythms, and the thing was whatever we were playing, your eye would pick out the rhythm that matched. But everyone was convinced that it was being programmed in advance, which I kind of figured. And nobody wanted to hear the real explanation–it was just so much easier to say, “Well yeah, it’s synchronized.” Of course it wasn’t synchronized; it didn’t have to be. And actually, I had Fonfara’s wife sitting backstage and she would just get two Porta-Paks and take care of it.
Analogous to that, do you see…
Do you want me to tell you how we made the tapes? (smiles) Do you like video?
Yeah, I had noticed that it’s something that can be done with late night movies. I mean, I can do it with any TV now, but get a late night movie with bad film, so the contrast is all black and white, no grays. So that’s why an old movie. And then you put the horizontal flip on, all right? Then you turn the brightness all the way down. Well, almost all the way down. And you can get these real patt
erns, and then I’d film it, then videotape it. My camera had been worked on, I had brought the camera in and I actually had to sign a statement saying that I would not blame them for what I was asking them to do. I was asking them to make the camera…do no grays. I mean, a good camera shows grays–I wanted them to take it out, and they couldn’t believe it. So they had it up on the board, and they were adjusting it, and I would tell them–just like I said with your ear, having what you want. I would envision it how I wanted, you never have to know anything technical, just what you want. And then when you got it, that was it. So I had this incredible high-intensity camera, and so that plus that–and then I would re-video it. You had to watch out for when like a newscaster would come on, because even flipping like that you could see “NEWS.” So then the natural thing after that would be to go to color, but the trouble with color aside from the cost is that black and white gives off illumination, but color doesn’t. You can do the same thing with a color TV set, by the way, so try it. It’s just unbelievable. The patterns you can get–people didn’t want to hear that explanation either, so I told them it was a special effects generator. It just made it a lot simpler. Because nobody wanted to hear about horizontal flip. A lot of motels didn’t want to hear about it either, because their sets, they couldn’t figure out how it would stop.
Did you dump the sets to motels after the tour?
No, I gave them to Pratt, to their video department. The ones that worked, the ones that didn’t work were a tax write-off.
Let me ask you this…
No, let me tell you–so then what I wanted to do was get a big rear-projection set-up, you know? Like when you go to movie theaters and you see the Ali fight live? I had wanted to get one of those, and I had made these color videotapes that were spectacular. Spectaular! I wanted to have this huge incredibly abstract color thing going on, with the same technique of the polyrhythms and us in front of it, but the cost to rent one of those things–you know, they’re incredibly fragile, they can’t be transported and that… But anyway, they wanted $45,000 a night, so that was the end of that. So that was when I started getting bored. One of these days, maybe. I got a little disenchanted when somebody told me the best part of the whole thing was the part of the video where the Fred Astaire movie that was coming over one TV. It didn’t always work.
You plan on putting out video discs with your music in the future if the hardware’s there?
I don’t know, I don’t know. Because the thing is, like I’d get done with the video and people would say to me, “Why didn’t you have a picture of you on the screen?” Everybody said that. And here we’d gone to great lengths to do something else and, you know, there’s a reason why people suggest that. That’s what they wanted, and that whole other thing should be in a different atmosphere or something like that. It’s hard for people to concentrate on a whole bunch of things, and since the thing they concentrate on during my shows is me, maybe they shouldn’t be distracted by a whole bunch of abstracts. I mean, I can understand the whole thing about getting hit over the head–it’s like the first time we did the 1ight show with Warhol, with the movies and the lights, it took a long time for people to adjust–and now it’s kind of taken for granted.
I know a lot of people would like to see that again.
Oh yeah, and they’re not going to, either. That’s the thing about some of the stuff I’ve been involved with–it’s one time and one time only. It’s like it says on the record, on Take No Prisoners. It said, “One time and one time only.” It’s really true. That’s the thing about certain people–you really ought to see them, some people you really have to see their shows, because even if they’re around again, you’re missing that show. Very few things are that…pertinent, or have that kind of intensity, where you say, “Yeah? Well, I’l1 see him next year.” It’s like with Bob Hope. He might die tomorrow, but if he was in town today, I’d say “Ahh.” (indicates apathy) Jack Benny, on the other hand, I’d give anything to see him. I saw a whole rerun of his TV show–I didn’t appreciate him when I was younger, I guess it was over my head. Well I saw it, it was just so funny I practically died. I just couldn’t believe that I’d missed this. It was so ridiculous; I mean, he’s just so funny, He’d walk into a room (imitates Jack), and with Rochester he’d be totally helpless, like he’d want to do something, like if Rochester was tucking him into bed–this is so funny! It’s just very, very, very funny. I saw Henny Youngman–he’s another one–he was playing at the Bottom Line and my God, I had to see it. And he was so funny, just one after another, he was standing with his violin, and I tell you, it was hysterical.
Some people call Take No Prisoners your Henny Youngman album.
Oh, yeah, it was. I mean people who know me know all about this stuff, they’ve heard it, and I wanted to get it all on tape. That required like a hometown audience, so you could understand the jokes. I wouldn’t carry on like that in, uh, a foreign country.
(end Pt. 5)