Over a 27-year music writing career, I have interviewed hundreds and hundreds of artists, as well as actors, comedians and star athletes.
I have a laid-back interview style. I rarely write down questions; I prefer to engage the artist in a conversation. So far, this method has worked for me. I have had artists thank me and say they appreciated not being asked the same old tired questions and that it felt like we were shooting the breeze in their living room.
I’m not boasting. I’m just illustrating this: Out of all those interviews, only two do I consider really bad interviews – Paul Stanley of KISS and, sadly, Lou Reed.
Paul Stanley. Pfffst. If by some chance, KISS squeaks into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, please be humble and gracious, Paul. During our brief time together, you were anything but humble and gracious.
Lou Reed … now that was a kick in the gut.
It was 1990, and somehow I managed to get phone interviews with Reed and John Cale within an hour of each other. They were promoting “Songs For Drella,” their tribute to The Velvet Underground’s muse, the late great Andy Warhol.
I have the transcribed interviews right in front of me now. Reed’s quotes were four sentences long. Cale’s took up an entire page and a half.
From the start, it was apparent that Reed wasn’t in the mood to talk. Maybe he had a bad burrito, maybe he wasn’t having a “Perfect Day,” I don’t know. I thought I had asked him some good questions, but all of his replies were short … with lots of dead air in between.
“I thought he was a very interesting, fascinating person,” Reed said of Warhol. “He had great ideas, and he was very, very smart.
“I constantly look at things more than once because of Andy, because he would always see things in a different way, in a fascinating way. So when I look at things, I make an effort to certainly keep in mind that what I might see at first glance may not really be there. He also had a really intense work ethic, which I have tried to incorporate into my own life.”
That was it. That was all I could get out of him during a 10-minute interview.
I was mortified. What did I do wrong? I thought to myself.
Then 40 minutes later, I was hooked up with Cale. I told him of my experience with Reed, and he tried to console me. “Oh, that’s just Lou being Lou. Don’t take it personally.”
Cale was effusive in describing Warhol and the creative atmosphere he gave The Velvet Underground in the far-out 1960s.
“He had nothing to do really with the music,” Cale said of Warhol. “He had no influence on the music other than to remind us of what ideas we had come up with. We would throw out a lot of crazy ideas and forget about half of them, but he was like the co-conspirator. If we wanted to play loud, he wanted us to play louder. I don’t know … it was great to have somebody working with you instead of against you. We were out to break all the rules, so we didn’t make things easy on ourselves.”
After all these years, I don’t hold it against Reed for that bad interview. I still have an affinity for his music, The Velvet Underground and his remarkable career. His death over the weekend was another kick in the gut.
In the end, it was just Lou being Lou … but at least I got to talk to him and tell him how much I enjoyed his music.
Not everyone gets that chance.